X, from writer-director Ti West, is an examination of the culmination of American culture, an emotional conversation around aging, and a surprisingly poignant look at the threats of repressed desire.
X fully embraces its 1970s vibe. Set in the ‘golden age’ of porn, the film portrays a group of amateur pornographers who decide to make a new type of artistic adult film in a rented farmhouse. Wayne (Martin Henderson) wants to make the best porn film he can. He piles up his crew— Wayne’s girlfriend Maxine (Mia Goth), her co-stars Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson (Scott Mescudi, AKA Kid Cudi), their director RJ (Owen Campbell), and RJ’s girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) — in a van and they head out to their remote cabin. As they arrive at their rental, they are immediately met with hostility by their host, the older gun-enthusiast Howard (Stephen Ure). But his wife, Pearl (also Goth), becomes fixated on the young group of friends and begins to stalk the bunch, while also attempting to seduce one of the actors, Maxine.
Psycho-biddy films are a classic sub-genre of horror films that follow older women in peril essentially. Psycho-biddy is a genre that follows an older, typically unstable woman with violence triggered by jealousy, sexual desires, or resentment of their own life and the film typically shows her fury focused on a young woman, whose youth she envies. Psycho-biddy both exploits and showcases the anxieties women can have on their value in society as the age. In X, Pearl is not shown to be a killer from the start. She is confronted with confusion as she sees a younger, sexier version of herself in Maxine. Pearl immediately feels anger grow over her jealously of the younger, sexier woman and the loss of a time in her life where she was able to feel she was a sexy, carefree object of desire.
West may not be able to relate specifically to the way this works for a woman internally, but the way he has portrayed Pearl as she comes to this realization is truly moving. While audiences later are able to see Pearl’s backstory in the prequel Pearl released later in 2022, in X, West truly writes her in a sympathetic light as the story unfolds. While she is a murderer, she is truly suffering as she comes to a realization of where she is at her in life based on her appearance and what she sees as an object of desire.
Alongside Pearl’s realization, X argues that age should not be used as a reason to not go after what you want in life. The film shows sexual desire runs through everyone, regardless of age. It’s when Howard and Pearl deny themselves sexual outlets that the trouble starts at the farmhouse. The couple is not jealous of what they can no longer have; they’re jealous of the things they think they’re too old to have. The distinction that self-denial based on the interpretation that there is an expiration date on living a fulfilled life changes the film from a commentary on ageism to a direct argument on it.
The performances in X truly stand out as Goth certifies herself as a scream queen. Ortega adds an impressive film to her stacked resume so far. Mescudi (AKA Kid Cudi) delivers a great performance and shines as a comedian. The star of the show, alongside Goth, is the makeup work. The prosthetics in the film to turn Goth into the aged Pearl are outstanding. Many viewers walk away not even realizing Goth is playing both Maxine and Pearl.
X is a slow build horror films that pulls off scares alongside gore, commentary on repressed desires, and an exploration on female sexuality all while honoring 70s horror films. Ti West creates a horror Boogie Nights while showcasing a more empowering film for women’s bodies in a genre that sometimes exploits them.
Should be Considered: Best Makeup and Hairstyling
Where to Watch: Showtime
Lives in LA with her husband, daughter and dog. Misses Arclight, loves iced vanilla coffees.
Favorite Director: Darren Aronofsky