X (2022)

Consider the law of diminishing returns: is the best slasher that I’ve seen all year, last year, the year before and probably for the rest of this year.

It may also be the law of the desert island in that it may be the only slasher in years that approaches the blood-soaked heaven of 1978-1981, yet were it released then, would I feel the same way?

And after seeing tweet after tweet about how debauched and filthy and sexed-up this movie was, did we see the same film? Or am I really the “affable pervert” that Grindhouse Releasing said I was and I’ve become too desensitized? Or, probably more true, has this generation become more puritanical and repressed than we were?

Probably most importantly, I decided to just shut up and enjoy the movie.

What I came away with was a film that actually gave me that uncomfortable and awesome feeling of “I wonder what’s next” and a worry for each of its characters.

Back in 1979, a group of young filmmakers set out to make a dirty film in rural Texas, learning nothing from another Texas-shot slasher. And when their elderly hosts discover what’s happening, the cast find themselves in a way different movie.

Reading that description, I felt sure that I would dislike this movie, but then again, this was Ti West, who somehow took a very basic story in The House of the Devil and made something great and lasting.

I’ve been burned by an A24 trailer before. Come on, we all have. But again, I decided to shut up and watch the movie.

And I’m glad that I did.

Maxine Minx (Mia Goth, Nymphomaniac) dreams of being an adult film star and people knowing her name. This brings her to deepest, darkest New Zealand, err Texas, along with her producer/boyfriend/suitcase pimp Wayne (Martin Henderson), director RJ (Owen Campbell), his assistant/girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega, Scream) and two co-stars, Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow, the Perfect Pitch movies) and Jackson Hole (Kid Cudi!). As they go deeper into the rural world, we’re reminded — of course — of that aforementioned Texas film, what with the van that propels them and the farmhouse they end up in.

RJ has a goal. Just because it’s porn doesn’t mean that it can’t be art, he says, almost like a non-burnt out Gary Graver. Wayne knows something more important: porno chic died because middle America is stil too afraid to go to a porno theater and still blushes when they buy a skin mag. But if they can have that movie in the safety of their home? He’s ahead of the video era, Caballero and VCA before they’d even realized what was next. The themes of this movie are desire and age battling hand in hand and the fact that the new type of entertainment they’re making is based on the oldest joke there is — The Farmer’s Daughters — points to the intelligence of this endeavor.

Meanwhile, there’s Howard (Stephen Ure) and Pearl (also Mia Goth, we’ll get to that shortly), the elderly couple who owns the land. Howard barks at everyone while Pearly stays in the shadows, except for the moment where she invites Maxine in for lemonade, a remembrance of youth, some jealousy and a rebuffed sexual December to May advance.

That afternoon, Pearl watches Maxine and Jackson at work and begs Howard to make love to her one more time, but while the spirit and the emotional heart are willing, the flesh and the physical heart are weak.

That night, Lorraine surprises everyone by asking if she can be in the film. RJ tries to use art as the reason why the script can’t be changed; she defeats his argument and he watches her make love through the eye of his camera. That night, he leaves everyone behind but runs into Pearl and that’s where — nearly an hour into the film — “Don’t Fear the Reaper” plays and we’re reminded of exactly what kind of movie we’re in for.

The end of the film surprised me. I should have seen it coming, but the repeated dialogue, the divine intervention and Greek chorus of televangelists all came together in a way that I had no idea was going to occur. Seriously, that preacher gives Estus Pirkle a run for his money.

I also had no idea that Goth spent ten hours a day in makeup for the dual role, which she’ll take up again in Pearl, a prequel that was shot at the same time as this movie.

Even the soundtrack works, written by Tyler Bates and Chelsea Wolfe, who covers Fred Fisher’s “Oui, Oui, Marie.” What doesn’t, however, is the moment where Snow and Kudi sing “Landslide,” as we’ve already established the closeness of the actors and this seems only in the movie to have them remind us they also do music.

As bad as 2022’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre is, this is good. It feels closer to Eaten Alive, another Hooper film, what with the alligator scene — I winced when someone claimed this movie had a scene that echoed Alligator — and I love how the final girl is the least chaste character in the movie, continually doing drugs and putting herself first.

Here’s to more horror being committed to only being inspired by the past instead of wallowing within it, pushing itself to new heights. I was worried if West would ever come close to House again; my fears were unnecessary.

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