Many have tried to pin down the primary human motivators. Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman slinks life into a personification of Desire as the ultimate manipulator.
It drives our actions, both in moments of heated passion and twisted bitterness. X, a horror movie by writer/director Ti West and starring Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega and Brittany Snow, explores how desire is a poison pill for those peering through the windows.
What Is X About?
In 1979 adult entertainment is big business, bordering on the mainstream. Producer Wayne (Martin Henderson, Virgin River) gathers a minimal cast and crew to film low budget pornographic film The Farmer’s Daughters in a secluded farm cabin owned by elderly couple, Howard (Stephen Ure) and Pearl (Goth, in heavy prosthetics).
They hide the nature of what they are doing from their hosts, but for a frail Pearl, the arrival of such young and virile guests is a trigger they could not anticipate.
Goth has a dual role in X, also playing the other lead in Maxine Minx. West’s slow, predatory camera work ensures that Maxine holds our gaze for long lecherous moments.
“There’s just something about her,” Wayne enthuses, seeing dollar signs in his eyes at her oozing sex appeal. That we see her snorting cocaine and telling her reflection that she’s a star speaks of witnessing self-delusion in real time.
Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights explored the psychological effect of on-demand desire on a person. X instead examines those aspiring to it, and the effect of when desire turns to repulsion.
X draws inspiration from the horror films of the 70s, where perceived depravity would mean a violent end. We know that blood and slaughter is to come, but in the lead-up to the first explosion of violence, X speaks with wry self-awareness.
With aspirations of high cinema, cameraman R.J. (Owen Campbell) enthuses that, “It’s possible to make a good dirty movie.” Unlike R.J., West demonstrates awareness of the hypocrisy of obfuscating the draw of titillation within the disingenuous overcoat of high cinema.
X Official Trailer
Is X Worth Watching?
The first half of the movie features a handful of languidly shot saucy scenes in which we, much like Pearl, ogle the youthful carefree bodies as they turn it on and off at will in a carefully staged display of carnality.
Pearl is portrayed with a twisted vulnerability. She proudly displays a picture of when she was young and desirable on the wall. Starved of physical affection (her husband says his heart can’t take the strain), she sadly and desperately seeks closeness with those repulsed by her.
And yet as the bodies pile up there is a cynical fatalism threaded throughout; Pearl and Maxine are both slaves to the value placed on their bodies, and neither learn to find any worth outside of desire.
X struggles to find a balance between commentary and cackling violence. As an homage to classic slasher cinema it captures the style if not the gore.
The first death receives the most sustained mutilation – violence boiled over in the face of yet another rejection – but thereafter West struggles to find ways to make his aged antagonists exact any bloodshed on a par with the subset of horror he is emulating (good use of an alligator notwithstanding!).
Similarly, the climax (sorry) of events flaps rather weekly on a perceived ick factor which seems at a loss as to where to find a narrative or thematic apex. Come the last act X is going through the motions to grind out a money shot, although to the dissatisfaction of all concerned.
There is plenty on display in X through Goth’s excellent twin performances and West’s intriguing direction to get the blood pumping.
A new horror franchise has been brought to life with prequel Pearl already out and a sequel after the events of X in development.
At our basest level, we may all be slaves to desire, but there is merit in stripping it back to stare in judgement at what is exposed underneath.
Words by Mike Record