On paper, X (2022) sounds like sexploitation by way of the original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: it’s 1979 and a group of Houston-based porn filmmakers head out to the boonies to shoot what they think will be -the- artistic home-video porno breakthrough, only for it to become their ultimate nightmare.
However, writer/director Ti West has always been supremely measured and thoughtful when it comes to his take on horror. The standout scene in his breakthrough film THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL consists of two minutes of protagonist Samantha (an ebullient Jocelin Donahue) dancing to THE FIXX’s ‘One Thing Leads to Another’ as it plays on her WalkMan, as opposed to the spectacularly nightmarish set-pieces that close the movie. West knows how to imbue emotion and heartfelt sincerity into his films in ways that few genre filmmakers do, and X is a clear case of this, even down to a similarly adorable music break.
Without spoiling anything, yes, X is lurid, is sensationalist, and definitely luxuriates in the sort of capitalist free love that existed at that time (at least, on film) but the soul of the film is about desire, to want and be wanted and feel hands on you; of coupling reciprocity. West is making the slasher subtext of physical, usually knife-centric, intimacy into text.
It also helps that West is ruminating in all of his cinematic influences: from John Ford to Jean-Luc Godard to Hitchcock, every scene — practically every shot — takes an established, recognizable visual motif and then skews — or skewers — it.
X is a wild but surprisingly sentimental ride, one that could revel in nastiness but opts instead to be an array of character pieces that also happens to be a rather thrilling, blood-soaked 90 minutes.
Lastly, I’d like to note: one facet of X’s production studio A24 that I love is that they encourage their auteurs to send out a newsletter reflecting on their film, and West’s one regarding X is worth a read.