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Ti West (The Innkeepers, The House of the Devil) knows how to do throwback horror. The House of the Devil, for example, takes us back to a 1980’s babysitting job with a catch, and it absolutely lands that classic retro vibe. West takes another journey into the past with his new outing X, which this time takes us back to a late-1970’s porn shoot gone horribly wrong. It’s a funny, scary, sexy dive into the horror vibes of yore, but with whip-smart modern sensibilities and grade A cinematography. To say the film lands is to put it mildly—it’s an exceptional horror entry that shows West at the peak of his filmmaking powers.

How do you make top-tier pornography in the late-1970’s? Easy—you shoot on location with a crew that has artistic dreams. Wayne (Martin Henderson) books a stay in the heart of Texas to shoot a new adult film with a cast of young, sex-positive stars: the starry-eyed Maxine (Mia Goth), seasoned performer Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), ex-soldier Jackson (Kid Cudi), and DP RJ (Owen Campbell) and his girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega).

There are a couple catches. First, the elderly couple that owns the place they’re staying at doesn’t know a whole crew of people will be staying with them. Second, the couple certainly doesn’t know they’re going to provide the location for a new pornographic work. Third, said elderly couple has some weird, weird baggage… let’s just leave it at that. And it’s a horror film, so shooting the picture there turns out to be (surprise!) a bad plan.

Every single performer lands. Brittany Snow exudes intelligence and sex appeal. Mia Goth’s Maxine is complex, observant, and mysterious. Jenna Ortega’s Lorraine has perhaps the film’s biggest character arc and she lands it beat-by-beat. Kid Cudi’s Jackson is loaded with charisma, Owen Campbell’s RJ nails the film’s strongest emotional moments, and Martin Henderson pulls it all together as the trustworthy (though a little odd) pornographer with big goals.

As a story, X can be summarized with three S’s: smart, sexy, scary. It really lands (and does not shy away from) the old-school eroticism of classic adult films and their stars and manages to subvert our expectations around what a porn-centered horror film will do with that material. For a genre so notoriously fused with sex and nudity, a lot of classic horror is implicitly anti-sex. If a character gets naked or has sex, they often die (and violently, at that). Sure, porn stars are horror movie victims here, but the way the themes and plot threads are handled one doesn’t get the feeling that they’re being punished for supposed transgressions.

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It’s also a decidedly smart film. It’s clear that West has a strong mastery of horror movie tropes and expectations, and X both pays off tropes and smartly subverts them. I don’t want to spoil anything, but horror fans will know what I mean when they see it—just because horror logic dictates X, Y, or Z, it’s never guaranteed what will or won’t happen here. Finally, it’s loaded with memorable moments, badass beats, and cinematic kills, all backed by extremely well chosen and executed shots.

The biggest issue with X is that it’s a bit of a logical stretch at times that the antagonists could really accomplish some of the things they do in the film. At the same time, lots of horror films rest on much larger logical stretches than that—look at Michael Myers’ ability to take infinite bullets or, I don’t know, Chucky for an example. It’s a small issue in an otherwise excellent horror outing.

X is a blast, and the most fun this reviewer has had with a horror film in a while (and this is from someone who both watches horror all the time and doesn’t tend to like slasher-style films). The characters and performances land, the kills are great, its smart, fun, and well-paced, and the ending really works. It’s the best film yet from a very talented horror filmmaker, and you’re going to want to hit it in theaters more than once. Long story short: X is great, and you will like it.

Source: Forbes

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