This review is part of our coverage of the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.
The Pitch: X has a lot on its mind, and the line between exploitation and empowerment is just one of many rich themes mined by Ti West in his first feature film since the 2016 John Travolta and Ethan Hawke-starring Western In A Valley of Violence.
“So the camera changes things,” Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) says midway through the film, just before RJ, Lorraine’s boyfriend and the young starry-eyed director of the porno at the center of the film, storms out of the shoot, furious and uncomfortable with her sudden interest in appearing on-screen in their dirty picture.
Lorraine, quiet as a church mouse, is the innocent boom mic operator, not like these other girls willing to debase themselves on-camera, or at least that’s how RJ sees it when he’s making the case against adding her sex scene to the movie, implying to the de-facto leader of the group Wayne (Martin Henderson) that his girlfriend Maxine (Mia Goth), one of the stars of the porno film, is lesser-than for doing so. Let’s just say Wayne doesn’t take too kindly to this assumption.
Many have already compared the film to The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, and while they’re certainly right to do so, West is after something a bit more ambitious than simply paying homage to one of the greatest horror pictures of all time. Yes, it’s a love letter to that film — entire sequences are modeled on it — but that descriptor is limiting as it’s more a classic example of a “movie about the movies.”
To get even more granular, ultimately, X is a movie about the joys of DIY-filmmaking and making cheap smut with your friends. And then, just when you think you know where it’s going and all the possible secrets have been revealed, X disorients you anew with what it’s really all about: the anxiety of getting old, squandering your youth, and the killer desires that remain with us even as our faculties start to shut down.
It’s a portrait of the end of an era and the beginning of a new one. It may have more in common with M. Night Shyamalan’s Old or even Michael Haneke’s Love than it does Chainsaw or Boogie Nights (another movie regularly referenced in conjunction with X).