in Shocktober


First and foremost, I’m not a fan of titling your movie just “X.” It’s been done. Hell, even making a “X” out of a woman’s crossed legs on the poster has been done. It’s a title that’s not really evocative of anything, since you didn’t even have the confidence to go for a full “XXX.” And it makes your movie harder to search for, especially on older platforms that have character minimums. Won’t somebody think of the SEO optimization! You end up having to google “X (2022)” or “X Ti West” or “X A24” and while those work and are still very few characters to type, it feels sub-optimal in a way that grinds my gears. Anyway, X is all right.

If you’ve ever worked on any film project, you’ve probably tried to steal a shot. It’s an ancient, proud tradition in cinema to, when you can’t get a permit or don’t have the budget, go sneakily film where you’re not supposed to. Hitchcock did it at the United Nations for North by Northwest and everybody love it. We did it in high school behind a grocery store and got a gun pointed at us for our trouble. And the characters of X try to get away with it in late-Seventies Texas, to even more disastrous results. Wayne (Martin Henderson) is an aspiring porno producer hoping to make his first adult film, “The Farmer’s Daughters,” with the help of director RJ (Owen Campbell), RJ’s girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega), and stars Bobby-Lynne Parker (Brittany Snow), Jackson Hole (Kid Cudi), and Maxine (Mia Goth), who’s also Wayne’s girlfriend. To make the movie, they are roadtripping through Texas; we see them doing some covert guerrilla filmmaking at a gas station before arriving at their principal location, a farm owned by the gun-toting geezer Howard (Stephen Ure), who doesn’t take kindly to trespassers. Once Wayne reminds Howard that he had made a reservation to stay in his guest house, everybody relaxes and it seems like Wayne’s simple, dirty plan is going to work as they start filming the meat of their skin flick. What they don’t realize is there’s just one problem: Howard’s wife Pearl (also Mia Goth) is doing some snooping and she likes what she sees.

While Wayne, RJ, and Lorraine are busy filming a scene between Bobby-Lynne and Jackson, the somewhat distant Maxine takes the opportunity to explore the farm on her own. Dangers lurk all around Max, but she’s oblivious to them. She swims in a lake without realizing there’s a massive alligator in it and wanders through the woods without noticing a mysterious figure observing her from the distance. In the first of many sequences that were surely more difficult to film than they needed to be, Pearl wordlessly invites Max into her house. Things turn from sour to rancid as Pearl starts making advances toward Max, then has her sneak back to the guest house when Howard returns. Max is unsettled but she’s got a job to do, and that job is fuckin’ so she keeps those bad vibes to herself and gets it on. Meanwhile, Pearl tries to make something happen with Howard but he’s all “my heart will give out,” like a bitch. And so it is that the sun goes down and things start to get crazy on this here ol’ farm.

What plays out is obviously an homage to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but for the incel era. There are a few choice scenes that I really enjoyed, my favorite being a surprising appearance of Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide.” But I think writer-director Ti West went a little too pretentious on this here motion picture. X oozes style and features some very attention-grabbing editing and a cast with compelling chemistry, but I think West lost the forest for the trees. I have a hard time trying to tie this whole story together in my head and figure out what, exactly, the message was supposed to be. There’s lots of Christian imagery and a recurring sermon delivered by a preacher that all leads to a reveal at the end that really didn’t do anything for me. That’s it? Am I missing something?

Another choice that I think the movie suffers for is having Mia Goth play Pearl. I believe this choice was made more because Ti West is trying to make the quickest trilogy ever and wanted Goth to star in all three, than because there was any meaningful reason for Pearl and Max to have this connection. Since what we get is Mia Goth buried under makeup and prosthetics, Pearl becomes a grotesque approximation of a human being. Which could be fine if Pearl was just supposed to be a monster, but the way the movie is written, I believe we were supposed to see some of her underlying humanity. Maybe even empathize with her in the beginning. Instead, like so many of the old age makeup movies we’ve talked about, she’s just creepy. Which, to be fair, is rarely a genuine problem in a genre that’s supposed to scare you.