The golden age of slasher films came and went a long time ago, but the spirit that kept bringing audiences back to the theater never died. Hot summer nights, movie theater popcorn and a blood-smeared screen continues to keep the market for slasher films alive, even if the vast majority are grossly underwhelming.
However, it’s strikingly apparent that Ti West — writer and director of “X” — envisions classic slasher horror unlike any filmmaker in recent years. His film, which follows a group of young adult-film workers, reenvisions the golden age of the slasher flick; the period that transformed the horror genre and washed over the American psyche like a massive, unavoidable wave. West captures every aspect of this era with powerful authenticity and nuance. From the film’s crisp, grainy composition to its beautifully flawed and revealing characters, West distinctly commands the genre like no other.
On the surface, “X” follows the clear-cut formula utilized by many slasher films throughout the years, such as “Halloween” and “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.” The premise of West’s script is a simple but acutely brilliant take on this formula. The film’s ensemble is a mix of adult film stars and crew members who stay overnight at a farm in rural Texas to shoot their next film, but are encountered by a deceptive, spurious elderly couple who reside on the property. Naturally, chaos and bloodshed ensue.
By taking on this contrived and clichéd formula, West plays on reminiscent tropes that transport the audience back in time. Yet, nostalgia is not what identifies the masterful craftsmanship of “X.” West’s script embeds unexpected depth within its intricate narrative, making the film both thought provoking and, simultaneously, laugh-out-loud hilarious. It recognizes the fundamental hypocrisies of the horror genre and the religious ideologies upon which the genre is based. Ingeniously, “X” captures moments that force viewers to ask themselves: Why is this horror?
This stems from West’s unadulterated boldness when it comes to creating thrilling cinema. His fearlessness is dazzlingly clear in “X,” where West brazenly questions terrifying spectacles that make audiences afraid, most notably by giving considerable screen time to the film’s central antagonists.
Somehow, despite its many nuances, West produces a film that can be mindlessly enjoyed just as well as it can be thoughtfully analyzed. The depth with which West captures the genre is so layered that it becomes nearly impossible to enumerate every facet of the film. Yet, “X” remains unabashedly frightful, entertaining and digestible, due in large part to the comedy injected into each performance. Not to mention the visually stunning and cinematically provocative subtleties of the film, which further elevate its poise and polish.
The entertainment that exudes from West’s horror flick is all thanks to its stellar ensemble cast. Led by Mia Goth’s outstanding performance as Maxine, the entire troupe emanates the charisma and chemistry of traditional slasher ensembles, such as the cast of “Scream” or “Halloween.” Kid Cudi and Brittany Snow especially stand out in their respective roles as Jackson and Bobby-Lynne, bringing authentic, over-the-top absurdity to the silver screen. Goth is the undeniable powerhouse among the well-rounded cast, evoking the many talented female leads who revolutionized the slasher genre.
This combination of on-screen talent and behind-the-scenes excellence distinguishes “X” as one of the most unique films of the decade so far; it is an instant classic within the horror genre. Without a doubt, West has established himself as a horror aficionado, sharp and uniquely stylized in his craft.
“X,” similarly, embodies the one-of-a-kind flair of its creator — with finely tuned nostalgia and style, it settles into one’s mind and remains there ad infinitum. This “X” factor is what the horror genre desperately needs in 2022, and West’s absurd, unprecedented slasher flick is dripping with it.