'X' (2022)/Written, Produced & Directed by Ti West/Grade: A+
The celebrated indie horror auteur returns to directing movies with my favorite film of last year.
I love a good, gory slasher, but very few have stood out to me as much as X (2022). The movie follows a small porn film crew and cast who rent some space at a Texan farm to shoot their latest project. When their elders hosts catch them in the act, however, everyone soon finds themselves fighting for their lives.
That's at least the gist of it, but the biggest thing that separated X from the herd was its timeless commentary on society's beauty standards. More specifically, how people are seen as physically 'appealing' in youth, and less so as they age. That subtext- and sometimes just text- is prevalent throughout many sequences in this film, especially in a lengthy discussion between the main characters about the morality of what they do. This scene, from its dialogue to an emotional rendition of Fleetwood Mac's 'Landslide', made it my favorite movie moment of 2022.
In addition to the commentary, X was masterfully crafted as a tense, slow-burn slasher. I was constantly waiting, just waiting, for that shoe to drop, and once it did, it didn't let up. The blood and gore effects, the tension and buildup of each death scene, were so well-done, I still vividly remember each one. The cinematography by Elliot Rockett, and the sound design by Graham Reznick (both regular collaborators of director Ti West), added tons of atmosphere to the farm where the story primarily takes place, as well as to the horror scenes as the movie took a turn for the more intense.
Another element that made this unique as a gruesome horror movie for me, were its wonderfully humanized characters. Slasher movies almost seem calculated to make their characters as disposable and/or unlikable as possible, making their demise much less impactful when it arrives. Here, each person feels like a real, flawed, but overall thoughtful and decent human being. From Maxine (Mia Goth, indelibly subtle playing a woman with more to her than meets the eye) to Wayne (Martin Henderson), her boyfriend and the porno's executive producer, I liked these people enough that I didn't want them to die, which was a testament to West's screenplay.
The film is also set in 1979, which lent itself to both the timelessness of the commentary, as well as some of the best production design I had ever seen in a horror movie. The cabin where the main characters stay, the van they drive, the strip club where the story begins; it was like being transported through the screen back in time. Kudos to production designer Tom Hammock for his efforts.
Whenever I think of the movies that define their respective genres, this is one of the ones that instantly comes to mind for the slasher genre. Much like my other favorite movies, it has become a selection that I can just watch when I want to relax, to decompress. Everything just coheres and flows together in a way that is simple, to-the-point, and startlingly effective.