X Movie poster | ©2022 A24

X Movie poster | ©2022 A24

Rating: R
Stars: Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Scott Mescudi, Martin Henderson, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure
Writer: Ti West
Director: Ti West
Distributor: A24
Release Date: March 18, 2022

X is director Ti West’s blend of drama, comedy, horror and moviemaking about moviemaking. He succeeds in being disturbing and almost heartbreaking before X backs off and turns more comic and conventional.

In a wraparound sequence, we’re with law enforcement as they examine a very bloody crime scene.

We then flash back to twenty-four hours earlier. We’re in 1979 Houston, Texas, where employees of a burlesque club are all too happy to ditch their day jobs, pile into a van, and head out to where they’re going to make THE FARMERS DAUGHTERS (the lack of apostrophe is theirs), a hardcore adult video.

In our group, we’ve got the performers: confident Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), defiant Maxine (Mia Goth), and Bobby-Lynne’s boyfriend, easygoing ex-Marine Jackson (Scott Mescudi).

Maxine’s boyfriend is good ol’ boy exec producer Wayne (Martin Henderson), also on board. Wayne feels rightly there’s a fortune to be made in these videos, which can be viewed in the privacy of one’s own home (remember, it’s 1979 – even home video was pretty new, and the Internet wouldn’t be a thing for decades yet).

Then there’s aspirational filmmaker RJ (Owen Campbell), a writer/director/camera operator who feels that the subject matter doesn’t prevent him from making actual cinema. RJ’s girlfriend is the project’s sound operator Lorraine (Jenna Ortega), a watchful type who doesn’t say much at first.

Wayne has arranged for the cast and crew to both stay and shoot at a boarding house on a remote property owned by elderly couple Frank (Stephen Ure) and his dementia-prone wife Pearl, who reside in the enormous old home across the field.

On arrival, we learn that Wayne has neglected to tell Frank he’d be bringing friends, and certainly hasn’t mentioned anything about making adult movies. Wayne can’t exactly conceal five other people from his host, but everybody keeps what they’re doing there under wraps.

For almost the first two-thirds of X, we get little ominous hints that something may be wrong. We also get some melancholy exploration of aging via Frank and Pearl. Mostly, though, this part of X is a dramedy that could easily keep going as it has begun.

As though to reassure the audience that, yes, this is a horror movie, filmmaker West has his characters engage in some thoroughly plausible but also on-the-nose dialogue about how stories can change genre partway through.

This is in keeping with a certain sense of playfulness baked into the whole enterprise. On the one hand, it keeps things fun (always assuming the viewer is up for nudity and gore, without rape). On the other hand, it prevents X from following through with its most original notions about the intersection of sexuality and age.

Goth, Ortega, and Snow all give endearing, dynamic performances. Mescudi is likable as the level-headed Jackson, Campbell has plaintive sincerity as the young man who just wants to get his movie made, and Henderson balances smarm and charm as the facilitator. Ure, playing older than his years under prosthetics, provides a working definition of “ornery.”

X displays a friendly attitude towards sexuality overall, and West provides pretty much equal male and female nudity. Contrary to what we might expect, the movie isn’t so much about punishing the video-makers for their sexuality as just being too long in the wrong place.

There are moments that have genuine tragic feeling to them, but X seems uncomfortable with following through, turning to genre jokes instead. Likewise, the flashforward opening promises something that is not later delivered (if a movie starts with someone telling a sheriff who’s already looking at a bloody mess that he needs to come see something, and it’s not shown to us right away, it better be a good revelation later on).

Indeed, the wraparound seems to exist mainly in order to deliver a climactic line. It’s as though we’re being reminded too often that the makers of X are aware of what they’re doing. We’re aware that they’re aware, and they mostly do a fine job – they don’t have to actually keep remarking on it.

There is a post-credits sequence that sheds additional light on what we’ve been watching; those invested should remain and watch it.

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