2022, R, 105 min. Directed by Ti West. Starring Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Kid Cudi, Martin Henderson, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure.

REVIEWED By Jenny Nulf, Fri., March 18, 2022

It’s been a while since Ti West – the horror auteur whose indie features created flurries of buzz across the festival circuit, from his cozy hotel ghost story The Innkeepers to the demonic slasher House of the Devil – has made a movie.

West is incredibly skilled with homage; he always seems to understand the texture of subgenres and time periods his films are embracing. X is no different. Set in the sweltering humidity of Texas in 1979, X is an ode to the quick and dirty method of shooting smut and horror in the prime era where low-budget filmmaking was king.

With a Texas Chain Saw Massacre-style crew, X opens with a bunch of young, hot adults making their way to a secluded farm out in the middle of Texas where they hope to film the artsiest porno the world has ever seen. Their film relies on Maxine (Goth), the woman with the “X factor” that’s going to take their project to the next level, because she’s a shooting star, somebody destined for greatness beyond the banal swampland of Houston. Strutting around the farm in overalls with no shirt, Goth’s presence is a magnet in X, with shimmering blue eyeshadow fit for producer Sam Levinson’s Euphoria, she commands the screen, as seductive and ethereal as ever.

West has always been a cultivator of exciting talent, and the addition of Scream queen Jenna Ortega as the hesitant, sheltered film director’s girlfriend and assistant, Lorraine, creates a friction that’s palpitating, a simmering anticipation as her eyes grow wider and wider as the shooting day progresses. Ortega’s hesitancy is a foil to Goth’s sexual power and Brittany Snow’s bubbling mother hen figure, Bobby-Lynne. With the addition of the smooth-sailing Kid Cudi, Matthew McConaughey double Martin Henderson, and ratlike film bro Owen Campbell, the cast of X gives West’s slow burn a humming rhythm that never ceases to captivate.

A24 has branded themselves as the curators of elevated horror, with films like Midsommar and The Witch, but what X finally brings them is a film that’s a blast of a ride, with blood and guts gushing, gator teeth chomping, and body-hurling gunshots. The splendor of gore is intoxicating, a welcome change of pace from the self-serious horror movies that populate the zeitgeist. Cinematographer Eliot Rockett’s camera slowly inches through the film, creating tension and thrills that have long been amiss in horror romps. A stunning shot of Maxine swimming in a murky brown manmade lake as an alligator inches toward her feels plucked out of a Southern creature feature, with Maxine’s pale, soft skin shimmering in the sunlight, oblivious to the danger that lurks nearby.

The threat doesn’t just come from swamplandia, but also from the creeping elderly couple lending out their ranch to the film crew. X’s battle between youth and aging is twisted, a sickening vampiric display of the dangers of lusting over lost sexual power. The dichotomy of Maxine’s climax with the older woman, Pearl, brushing her bristled hair is enchantingly haunting. While the film crew looks in awe upon Maxine, dead-eyed dolls gaze at Pearl, a de Palma-inspired split screen technique that is effortlessly pulled off. X’s exploration of the chase for youth is a riot, a cheeky splatterfest that blends nostalgia while also showcasing West’s unique talent for taking cherished horror film tropes and techniques and giving them a modern, streamlined spin.

The expectations for West’s return to film were high, and luckily X brings this master of horror back with a bang.

Don’t miss our interview with Ti West, “SeX and Violence,” March 11.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More X
SXSW Live Shot: X
SXSW Live Shot: X
Mohawk’s Wednesday night soundtrack

Tim Stegall, March 13, 2014

More Ti West
With Ti West <i>In a Valley of Violence</i>
With Ti West In a Valley of Violence
Director on PTSD, Westerns, and the world's greatest dog

Richard Whittaker, Oct. 21, 2016

Top 10 Festival Films You Haven't Seen Yet
Top 10 Festival Films You Haven't Seen Yet
The unreleased and the oddly evasive titles from 2013

Richard Whittaker, Jan. 5, 2014

More Ti West Films
Mia Goth shines madly in the delicious period prequel to X

Sarah Jane, Sept. 16, 2022

In a Valley of Violence
Ti West takes a break from horror with this Ethan Hawke Western

Marc Savlov, Oct. 21, 2016

More by Jenny Nulf
The Talented Mr. Ripley riff adds little to the conversation

Nov. 17, 2023

Your Lucky Day
Angus Cloud grounds this twisty sealed bottle crime flick

Nov. 10, 2023


X, Ti West, Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Kid Cudi, Martin Henderson, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle