x 2022 film review

X (2022)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars out of 5)

X (2022) Directed by Ti West

”Shockingly entertaining” would be the precise phraseology to describe it, but so would ”shockingly smart” in an ironic and categorical way. This homage to the most debauched, scandalous and irreverent decades of exploitation cinema is unbridledly brilliant in its exploration of what made exploitation cinema such a gargantuan phenomenon in the golden age of grindhouse. Interestingly, even with all the universal use of the sleazy idiosyncrasies of these forms of filmmaking, the audacious director Ti West hypertrophies his own style into something already markedly excessive and recognizable, it’s like watching a retrospective pastiche of 1970s exploitation films with breezy features that the dynamics of digital cinema can give you to boldly frolic with the anti-aesthetic formalities that made the low-budget cinema of those times so rough, prurient and salacious. To begin with, I think it’s no surprise to anyone that the raunchy, hippiesque, rebellious 70’s was probably the first explicitly hardcore decade for pornography, so the simple detail of making a tribute specifically to the sexual freedom of the 70’s automatically makes it a look somewhere between discreetly curious and indiscreetly voyeuristic.

It is more than evident that Ti West is another of those contemporary filmmakers who yearn for the past, and passionately seek to keep it alive anachronistically, for it is certainly a film that formally we could say utilizes the very different palette of two types of technologies belonging to two vastly heterogeneous eras, and does it stupendously well. The alternations to a grimy, grainy 16mm, and the changes in aspect ratio, have been done multiple times in film yet here it manages to make an exchange of styles that produces a revalidation of those forms, it specifies how amateurish framing and ugly lighting can really give an impish appeal to the photographic image, which after all was what made these films so distinctive. The narrative contains so many ribald slasher idioms that it seems to be playing a tacky joke, yet consistently this production maintains its exploitative vigor in a content of fanatical homage, and that sturdiness also has a simultaneous interplay with the deliberate overall anti-aesthetics of the grisly visual construction (those zooms!); it is as much a tribute to the narratives of exploitation cinema as it is to the physiognomies of exploitation cinema. X as its monosyllabic title tells us is straightforwardly bloody, ferociously graphic, racy and…unexpectedly emotional? Tragic?

The plot follows the familiar patterns of slasher cinema, but the film unsuspectingly assaults us with bizarre pathos that end up making this film more than just a horror movie, it has a considerable amount of dramatic overtones that are used not as narrative devices but as something peculiarly substantial, something that is usually scarce in exploitation cinema. In 1979, a group of young filmmakers with a modest, independent porn production set out to make an adult film in rural Texas, where they rent the perfect place to use as a filming location, but when their lonely, elderly hosts catch them in the act, the cast soon find themselves in a desperate fight for their lives.

The script structured with the basic methodology of predictability works thanks to the brief , however tremendously effective moments of general thoughtfulness to what we see, it is a sort of meta commentary that intensifies the themes that are dealt with in the film; gerascophobia is one of them, but also the perception we have about the definition of sexual relationships, strange details that are unexpected in a plot of this nature. Nevertheless here everything happens devilishly grotesque, and it gives much more than it promises, it expresses a sensation that should be anomalous but ends up being potently unique, a communication of disgusting sensations that are at the same time intimately emotional. Which leads me to underline another of the essentials of this film, the performances, although not the performances per se, but the characters they play, which also seem to make a representation of the cliché characters of the slashers, the dumb blonde, two beefy, klutzy and virile guys, the innocent and shy girl, and of course the inevitable skinny guy with glasses. The fierce and sultry Mia Goth playing double intensity, in two contrasting roles, both equally convincing and praiseworthy, gives the film a touch of thrilling uniqueness, which reminds us how vital it is to have a character we care about in a film like this.

It’s a terrific horror production, the kind you rarely find, it’s adroitly edited, with a great understanding of tense anticipation to the moments of horror, and it’s bloodcurdling not for its frenetic violence, it’s terrifying for the eldritch mirages, for the cleverness of its debatable ideas, and for its arresting aggressiveness that evokes the smutty savagery of seventies cinema. X is an immediate classic of contemporary horror cinema, one of those films that live obsessed with the indelible past. If this film leaves us with anything reassuring, it is that horror cinema maintains its stamina despite being the most fickle genre in productivity, filmmakers like Ti West are the ones who leave us hope that perhaps there is a latent renaissance of a lurid and evocative horror cinema in the not too distant future…

Matteo Bedon

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When I'm not watching and studying films, I'm writing about them. Part-time essayist and full-time film critic.

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