X (Ti West, 2022, USA/Canada)

Made in New Zealand under strict COVID protocols, X marks Ti West's first collaboration with powerhouse indie studio A24 and his first horror film in almost 10 years. West rode the "torture p*rn" revival of the early 2000s, and feels largely like a throwback to the horror of the early 2000s, and less so like the "elevated horror" we've so come to expect. The plot of the film is relatively simple - a group of people rents a house to film a pornographic film at an elderly couple's property. However, they find themselves being hunted by the couple.

What makes X stand out first is the film's mood. The musical cues, the camera work, and the general feel of the film are indebted to the 1970s - or at least an imagined 1970s. The most obvious point of comparison is The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but the comparison is mostly at the surface level. Interestingly there are many references here to adult films of the era, and it seems that the vibe is close to Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights

The real star of the film is Mia Goth as Maxine "Max" Mink and Pearl. We've often seen an actor play two roles simultaneously in a film, but the unique aspect here is that Maxine becomes the point of envy for a character who is herself, creating an interesting psychological portrait within the film. There is deep anxiety about aging and youth in the film, which is further articulated with the film's sequel Pearl, which was filmed back to back with X. While Pearl may be a more original film, delivers because it starts in a certain direction and subverts many of those expectations as the film progresses. By the end of the film, we find ourselves asking where this film is going and why it is going there.



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