‘X’ marks a smart, inventive take on gory horror and old-school porn

Full of dark humor and surprising twists, the homage explores themes of sexuality, judgment and religion.

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Mia Goth in new movie “X” as the fame-seeking character Maxine, whoruns into trouble on the set of the adult film she’s making.

Fame-seeking Maxine (Mia Goth) runs into trouble on the set of the adult film she’s making in “X.”

A24

If we had an awards category for best cover song in a motion picture, I would instantly nominate the Brittany Snow/Kid Cudi rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide” in the spectacularly gruesome, wickedly funny and just plain badass gore fest that is “X,” with Kid Cudi on acoustic guitar and Snow delivering lovely and lilting vocals, set to a split-screen montage featuring another character from the film who is either deeply sympathetic or a psychopathic killer, or maybe a little of both.

Ta da! If that doesn’t tell you writer-director Ti West has fashioned something unique and devilishly strange in the genre that has come to be known as “elevated horror,” then I just don’t know what.

Of the approximately one kabillion homages to “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” we’ve had since the release of TobeHooper’s visceral classic in 1974, this is one of the most inventive and creative entrants I’ve ever seen.

With echoes of everything from “The Shining” to “Psycho” to “Boogie Nights” to “Alligator” to “Hardcore” to infamous porn films such as “Andy Warhol’s Blue Movie” and “Debbie Does Dallas,” this is an homage but also a strikingly original and cheerfully grotesque work, filled with dark humor, relatively complex subtext and gung-ho, all-in performances from the talented ensemble cast.

It’s the kind of movie that has you reeling in disgust at certain moments, then laughing at the blood-spattered absurdity of it all.

‘X’

Untitled

A24 presents a film written and directed by Ti West. Rated R (for strong bloody violence and gore, strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and language). Running time: 105 minutes. Now showing at theaters.

It’s a new twist on the period-piece slasher movie, smart and strange and fantastically depraved. I kinda loved it.

With West often employing techniques mimicking the grindhouse cinema of the time, “X” is set in 1979, with “In the Summertime” by Mungo Jerry setting the tone as we meet the six Houstonians who are headed to a remote farm in the Texas countryside where their leader has rented a cottage to surreptitiously shoot “The Farmer’s Daughter,” a homemade porn movie designed to capitalize on the brand-new home-video market.

Their ranks include:

  • Wayne (Martin Henderson), the constantly upbeat, smooth-talking, fortysomething huckster and producer who is the putative mastermind behind the project.
Brittany Snow and Kid Cudi in a scene in “X,” playing would-be porn stars who share a song during downtime from filming.

A couple of would-be porn stars (Brittany Snow and Kid Cudi) share a song during their downtime.

A24

  • Maxine (Mia Goth), Wayne’s freckle-faced girlfriend, who indulges in a regular cocaine habit and yearns to become famous “like Lynda Carter.”
  • Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), who is street-smart and supremely self-confident and believes in touching all the hedonistic bases while she’s still young.
  • Jackson (Kid Cudi aka Scott Mescudi), a Marine who served in Vietnam and is all too happy to launch a career in porn, as he’ll be playing the stranded stranger who winds up at a farmhouse where daddy isn’t home, and the farmer’s daughters, played by Bobby-Lynne and Maxine in the movie-within-this-movie, are determined to show him the time of his life.
  • R.J. (Owen Campbell), who fancies himself a director in the French New Wave tradition and believes porn will be his springboard to Hollywood, and R.J’s innocent and prudish girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega), who will handle boom mic duties and is mortified, at least initially, when filming commences. (Sidebar: With “Scream” and “Studio 666” and now this film, Jenna Ortega is setting the land-speed record for most consecutive horror movie appearances.)

Even before the van with “Plowing Service” (haha) painted on its sides gets to the farm, there’s ominous foreshadowing, from the sight of cow entrails gunking up the road after an accident to the obligatory stop at the creepy gas station/convenience store, where we see a fire-and-brimstone televangelist (Simon Prast) on the black-and-white TV, railing against those who give in to the temptations of the human flesh. (It’s not the last time we’ll see that preacher on a TV.)

Once the gang arrives at the farm, they’re greeted with surly suspicion by crusty ol’ Howard(Stephen Ure), who looks to be about 100 years old and answers the door waving a shotgun. Staring from an upstairs window in classic horror movie fashion is Howard’s wife Pearl. And here’s the thing about Pearl: She’s also played by Mia Goth, who is virtually unrecognizable beneath some truly impressive makeup and prosthetics, which has us wondering if there’s going to be some sort of supernatural element to the proceedings, and I’m not spoiling that either way for ya.

“X” is that rare film that takes you inside the lives of the spooky villains, as we learn Pearl was once a beautiful young dancer whose dreams were cut short and who, and in present day, still yearns for the touch of Howard, who is mortified by the idea and says he can’t risk physical contact because of his bad heart. (West has reportedly filmed a prequel, also starring Goth as Pearl, set in 1918.)

The story takes a number of surprising twists and turns, all while exploring themes of sexuality, judgment and, of course, religion.

Even with all of the stylized tricks and splatter moments and gruesome violence, we believe these are real people in a real situation that goes really, terribly, horribly, entertainingly horrific.

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