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(The 2022 SXSW Film Festival ran March 11-20 in glorious Austin, Texas. Check out Melanie Addington’s movie review of X. Join the conversation with HtN on our Letterboxd Page.)

Ti West returns with a horror film for the ages. On March 13, X world premiered to enthusiastic audiences at South by Southwest and is now in theaters. It’s an intelligent horror film – who cares about the box office numbers when art happens? Well, A24, the distributor, likely, but this will have long legs, like several of its lead actors.

Mia Goth (Maxine & Pearl) is the stand-out with two roles in the film. Jenna Ortega as Lorraine and Brittany Snow as Bobby-Lynne also bring significant character development to the story. Snow has the best comedic lines, including a well-placed “bless your heart” that encapsulates her strong Southern femininity better than anything else she says the rest of the film.

Owen Campbell plays the aspiring indie filmmaker RJ, and Martin Henderson plays Wayne, the producer in charge of the operation and boyfriend to Maxine. But Scott Mescudi (aka Kid Cudi) is who steals the spotlight for the men in the movie playing ex-military and a guy who loves his new career.

The film works on a few levels on skirting the line between horror and pornography, two of the most progressive independent film forms of the 70s. West, who has a revered love of the time, brings that love to the screen as young filmmakers try to get an adult film made in rural Texas. Their hosts catch them in the act and are not fans. And that is the basic idea, but West digs in deep on metaphors and cancels out some horror tropes from the period.

Since day one, American ingenuity and stubborn independence have been juxtaposed with Puritanical values. X is not the first film to capture that dichotomy, but maybe one of the best since Easy Rider. But where West shines is remixing the 70s-80s tropes of sexuality in horror.

 Either you are a teenage girl, so the paranormal happens due to you becoming a woman, or you choose not to be a virgin until marriage, so you are murdered off first in every camp horror film. The entire history of horror films has been masculine, with a few rare exceptions. And often, women rarely band together and instead pair off with men. But in X, the women take in the other women and support them.

Capturing the zeitgeist of a nation at war with one of its sexes and fears of the world around us has been the standard. But West flips it on its head and makes strong, empowered women and the meek “virgin” mouse (here, not a virgin) make their sexual choices and have freedom within their roles. They are not being forced to enhance their sexuality. They are not being forced or persuaded by a man. The men are along for the ride knowing that the real power is within the women on all sides of the equation. And what West does for once in the genre is, leave it on that note. It doesn’t have a twist ending with the man behind it all. It is a movie about women making decisions despite what the men in their lives think. And what better than in today’s world of America at war with women once again to revolutionize the genre.

But X is as much about having the X-factor and how beauty can fade despite women learning how to manipulate it to work within American society. Even when on top of the world, there is a lingering thought in womans head that culture will erase you when not age-appropriate anymore, a scathing review of the industry that West plays in. It could be easy to read the film as ageist when it is how we internalize our ageism and fears as a society that he holds a mirror to.

But this movie is not just the direction, actors, or cinematography. There is a significant dedication to the makeup and prosthetics department for their magic on aging up some of the performers and the fun costuming that hints at the time without being too over the top. Stephen Ure is barely recognizable as Howard and is the scariest old guy on film since Grandpa Sawyer in Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

And look, it is a horny film. Don’t let my long diatribe about how smart it is scare you away. It is a lot of fun, meant to be seen in a dark room with an audience. And once you’ve seen it, you’ll be glad to hear that a prequel is already in post-production, also directed by Ti West.

– Melanie Addington (@MelAddington)

2022 SXSW Film Festival; Ti West; movie review
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Melanie Addington is the Executive Director of Tallgrass Film Association as of 2021. She has worked in the film festival world since 2006, first as a volunteer, and then eventually becoming the Oxford Film Festival Executive Director in August 2015. She used to be a reporter for the Oxford Eagle (a community newspaper) and then Pizza Magazine Quarterly (a global trade magazine). She still loves pizza. And she still writes for Hammer to Nail and Film Festival Today about her other great love: movies. She is from Southern California originally but has lived in the South for 20 years. She has family in Wichita, Kansas, and considers it a great new home. She also writes, directs, and produces films. She is married and has one son.

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