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When Ti West first burst onto the scene nearly a decade ago, it was with style, grit, and savvy. The one-two punch of retro-fitted occult babysitter flick House of the Devil and surprisingly endearing, but terrifying, docu-horror The Innkeepers announced a major genre talent.  

Here is a guy who can deliver effective, stylish, thrills and chills in nostalgia and overworked sub-genres. 2013’s The Sacrament missed the mark and seemed to cap a two-year stetch of climbing momentum. Since then, West’s output has been inconsistent. Decent forays into television aside, his last cinematic offering was the serviceable western In a Valley of Violence starring John Travolta and Ethan Hawke. The hype was high and the returns were…fine. It’s been five years since then and fans have been hungry for the Ti West of old. Which is why X is such a treat

Set against a backdrop of the booming VHS and porn industry of 1979, X follows a group of sexy youngsters who head out into the Texas sticks to shoot a porno. Only, when they get to their rented rural lodgings, things take a turn for the worst when the geriatric owners realise what’s happening on their property. 

Taking his time, X spends the better part of an hour letting its characters breath and its tension climb before putting foot to gas. The mixed bag of 70’s cool cats make an intriguing film crew and a largely likeable group of potential victims. No single character is a true irritation so the film feels like it distances itself from the formulaic slasher. These folks are, by and large, fun to spend time with, and more importantly, empathise with.  Which makes Mia Goth’s double role all the more delicious. Here Goth absolutely steals the show as one of the young porn stars, but also as the deranged, psychopathic, but weirdly endearing Pearl.

Horror has never been kind when it comes to city folks in the country and West summons a host of references with this simple formula, the most obvious would of course be The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Not just in terms of story but in the grainy idyllic Texas postcard visuals as well. However, X actually owes its horror more to Hitchcock’s Psycho than Hooper’s Massacre. The explicit way X uses voyeurism as a means of creating terror and tension is nothing short of masterful. The way he unveils beautiful youthful people, then in the same 90 mins forces us to watch a host of grisly murders and geriatric intercourse is exactly the kind of thoughtful grindhousery which sets X apart from the surface-level nostalgia kicking about just now. West revels in the flip of desirable nubile sensuality to decrepit aged horniness. He makes a point about audience reaction and voyeurism that feels just the right kind of uncomfortable.

It feels like someone has something to prove. There are so many parts to X which make it hard to define; it’s a classic redneck slasher film, a hag horror, a gruesome geriatric adaptation of Bonnie and Clyde, a technically pristine Indie, and a porn film. When all is said and done West has actually made a Bonafide grindhouse feature; excessive in style and substance, yet ultimately entertaining. 

This is, like House of the Devil, a film committed to film. You can just tell the guy loves making movies. There’s a glee in the madness, the carnage, the way this night of terror unfurls and the surprises it pulls off. West delivers more thrills and big horror set pieces than he ever has and it wouldn’t be crazy to call this his best film to date. 


Scott Clark 

Dir. Ti West 

Stars. Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Brittany Snow, Kid Cudi, Martin Henderson, Stephen Ure,  

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