X, Return of the Slasher Pic

2022 is officially the return of slasher horror. Between Scream, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and now X, it’s clear the sub-genre is formenting a comeback this year. From Jason Vorhees to Freddy Krueger, Candyman to Ghostface, slashers ruled the 80s and 90s, only to be supplanted by torture porn and Japanese remakes following the new millennium, then cult horror (The Witch, Get Out, Hereditary, Midsommar) and traditional haunted houses (The Conjuring, Annabelle) in the last decade. In the midst of Jordan Peele, Ari Aster, and Robert Eggers making waves, horror maestro Ti West has returned from a sabattical to prove he is still among the genre’s greats. And he has done so by delivering a love letter to grindhouse films of the 70’s, combining a funny tale of amateur filmmakers and porn stars aching to produce a star-making picture with an evocative treatise on aging, culture wars, and Christian fundamentalism, all within the framework of a bloody good slasher flick that doesn’t mince words or ideas or images in painting a gory portrait of existential jealousy. This is a pretty, heavy picture that doesn’t use a hammer when discussing such themes, preferring to skirt the edges of messages as it entertains and enthralls at a low boil, until the shotguns come out.

Nobody dies for nearly half its running time, but when the bloodshed begins, elderly villain Pearl instantly becomes iconic. A single image will remain with me for the rest of the year: following her first kill in front of a running van, its blood-spattered headlights painting her in red, Pearl dances slowly with herself to the tune of one of her favorite oldies. It’s bloody yet beautiful, creepy yet creative for the genre, and it’s a moment that signals this picture as a possible future classic. Also iconic is Mia Goth as star pupil of the porn crew, a young woman clearly attempting to escape her past, possibly her family. Goth is quickly amassing an impressive resume as scream queen of the last decade. She’s accompanied by Jenna Ortega as a virginal “church mouse,” Brittany Snow as an aging “whore,” Kid Cudi as an on-screen stud, and Martin Henderson as a likable if unscrupulous producer. West doesn’t skimp on kills or sexy thrills, dressing his male and female stars suggestively and emphasizing their attributes accordingly, whether it be Mia Goth’s simple, shirtless overalls or Cudi’s penis sight gag. He celebrates the entrepreneurial spirit which horror and pornography share, and creates authentic character sketches which develop beyond typical genre cliches. X represents a sublime return to form for slasher pictures, and the best horror film since 2019’s one-two punch of Midsommar and The Lighthouse.

Grade: A

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