Courtesy of A24.

October 19, 2023

Halloween Horrors: “X”

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Welcome back to Halloween Horrors, a mini-column dedicated to reviewing and recommending horror media throughout the month of October. 

X is an A24 film duology written, directed and produced by Ti West. Set in the 1970’s, the film follows main character Maxine and her crew mates who rent out a guest house in a rural Texas farm to produce an adult film. Maxine, played by Mia Goth, has aspirations of making it big in Hollywood one day, and hopes that this film will be her breakout. The group arrives at the farm and is greeted by the elderly couple who own it, Howard and Pearl. While Howard strongly dislikes the young guests, Pearl takes a special (and somewhat sexual) interest in Maxine. As the film progresses, Pearl and Howard’s murderous intentions are revealed in this twisted, sometimes comical slasher film. 

Though X was released just a little over one year ago, it attempts to emulate the feel of cult classic slashers of the 1970s and 1980s while adding a sharp new edge. The highly sexual nature of the film not only adds a shock factor to the horror scenes but acts as a social commentary. X forces audiences to think about what is taboo in society: sexuality in older adults. Although the film uses hyperbole to make its point, characterizing Pearl as a murderous psychopath, for many it is still unnerving to think of older adults engaging in intercourse, a feeling that the film enthusiastically exploits. Pearl’s envy of Maxine’s youth and beauty is part of the underlying horror beneath all of the guts and blood and the fear of aging as a woman. Maxine is able to capitalize on the youth, beauty and vivacity that Pearl no longer can. Maxine is also able to garner a response from men that Pearl cannot, though not for lack of trying. 

The quest for fame is another important subplot line. It drives Maxine’s actions, more so than the other actors who seem more interested in the film for the erotic pleasure of making it. Pearl, as it turns out, also had a deep desire to be famous that she later in life was forced to relinquish. Although often left unspoken, there are acceptable and unacceptable paths to fame in Hollywood. Often actors who work with explicit content are regarded as lesser than. In its satirical fashion, X challenges this long held prejudice. 

Even the name of the movie begs attention. In the movie, Maxine is described as having that “X-factor,” meaning that she has star quality that could propel her into fame. X could also be a nod to the rating given to adult films, or even an X put next to a name after someone dies. 

X is the first part of a film trilogy, the second film being Pearl and the third unreleased film recently introduced as MaXXXine. Pearl acts as a prequel to X, set in the 1910s following a young Pearl. Ti West makes the choice to have Mia Goth star as Pearl as well as Maxine, adding to the interconnectedness of the two characters. MaXXXine is set in the 1980’s following the events of X where Maxine who (spoiler alert) survives tries to make it in Hollywood. The movie is gory and has moments that will make any viewer flinch, but it is also CAMP and has humorous moments. Even those who do not end up enjoying it will be left thinking about it for a minute, and it is certainly worth a watch. 

Sophie Gross is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].