Continuing their venture out into unusual, unmarked territory, A24’s ‘X’ is essentially what happens when you put together a ridiculous premise on paper and hand it to someone who knows what they’re doing: like the first Texas Chainssaw Massacre and Boogie Nights had its DNA crossbred, stuffed into a cytogenetic lab and then spiked with a venom overdose.
Ti West’s directing came across as someone who has a laser sharp eye for attention to detail but is also hell-bent on making the viewer as uncomfortable as possible…..while still having fun. He knows how carelessly simple it is to flash blood and gore on the screen with reckless abandon especially with this premise so he opted to take his time instead, lying in wait to unveil the carnage and choosing to focus on character work and setting the mood first and foremost.
The Grindhouse, 16mm framing the movie has with its cinematography looks lit and filtered in a way that mimics that old 70’s style but almost in a meta-sort-of-way. The entire aesthetic and ambience of the film has ‘period piece’ written all over it, serving as a love letter to horror movies from that point in time; by making even the most mundane of sequences of the production design come to life thanks to clever staging and composition, it instantly immerses audiences into the setting without ever feeling like it’s cashing in on nostalgia. Creepy spine-chilling music infects the ear-waves, surprisingly tense editing left me ill at ease with nerve-rattling imagery to boot, the apprehension of looming doom is palpable throughout the movie with excellent uses of negative space and despite being stylized, darkly playful and vicious, there’s still enough substance fastened to those bones.
And while all the characters start off as stereotypes, the script gives everyone enough meaty dialogue and room to expand beyond the roles given, further helped by the ensemble cast chewing up the scenery every chance they get; Mia Goth in particular making the absolute best out of her film debut.
While A24 is known for being very subtle and outlandish with their themes, I admit this was the first time I felt them pull the plug on trying to keep its themes like this did. Many existential themes are present here about the general consensus around getting old and how that tends to warp our sense of morality down the line but also the overarching stigma surrounding sex, sexual insecurities and how different generations interpret it, along with a few subtle subtexts that drive the mystery along. The problem is they stop short on actually trying to critique or explore like half of those.
They do well with the adult film angle: putting a meta spin on the practical mandatory nudity and adult content of R-rated slasher films, and using the adult industry to speak about indie filmmaking at large. Everything else is, needless to say….ehhh. It isn’t nearly as funny as others make it out to be, it either takes the characters back to their own stereotypes or just has them dip into the stupid pool, makeup and effects looked a little unconvincing and the plot within itself is not particularly ambitious in its psychology or storytelling.
Yet another experimental project from A24 that mashes up styles and tones on a whim, the end result could’ve very easily turned into satire but this intentionally jarring 70’s homage is somehow a better Texas Chainsaw Massacre than the RECENT TCM…..but only just.