Ti West is a great visual director, and you can count on his films looking polished and amazing. Such is the case with “X,” the first film in his series of slashers (including the prequel, “Pearl,” and the upcoming “MaXXXine,” which is currently in development). While “X” was released first, I would still recommend watching “Pearl” beforehand. Either order is fine, but I think screening the prequel and keeping the actual story timeline in order makes the most sense if you’re just starting out. “X” features grindhouse style horror that offers an homage to 1970s classics like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” but the film also lends a unique, fresh spin on the genre.

The year is 1979, and aspiring adult film actress Maxine Minx (Mia Goth) is joined by her cast and crew (Brittany Snow, Kid Cudi, Jenna Ortega, Owen Campbell, and Martin Henderson) to make a different kind of pornographic picture. The group ventures to a remote farmhouse in rural Texas to shoot their film, but something feels “off” about the elderly property owners Howard and Pearl (Stephen Ure and Goth, in a dual role). Their reclusive hosts are unaware of what’s going on out back until they catch the performers in the act. This sets off a chain of very violent events that has everyone fighting for their lives.

The retro horror setting serves the story well, even if it has the most basic of plots. What makes this script (penned by West) stand out is the dry humor and interesting, well-written characters that have a lot of depth. It doesn’t take long to start to like and care for these people, which makes their inevitable demise hit a little harder. West’s script includes themes of aging, ambition, voyeurism, and jealousy, all tied together with the joy of setting yourself free from repression. Stifled desire causes the elderly couple to begin their killing spree, but there is so much more underneath the carnage.

The film features explicit bloody violence, gore, nudity, and sex, earning its hard “R” rating. West doesn’t turn his camera from the bloodshed even when the audience instinctively looks away. If you aren’t accustomed to horror, this film may not be for you.

The cast is comprised of terrific indie actors who trust their director onscreen and off, which shows in their work. Being able to feel so free in front of the camera makes it an easier task to also stand behind it, and all of this results in great entertainment for the audience. The movie is fun and smart, if uncomplicated.

“X” ends with a wholly satisfying finale and avoids the pitfalls of frustrating the audience, as so many independent horror films seem to do. It’s a slower burn for sure, but what a rewarding ride.

By: Louisa Moore

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