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(Credit: A24)

Film

Why Ti West's 'X' is a contemporary horror classic

@Russellisation

In the contemporary horror revival, it’s rare that Ti West’s name is mentioned in the milieu of masters that includes American filmmakers Ari Aster and Jordan Peele and international innovators Jennifer Kent and Julia Ducournau. Though, thanks to his contemporary horror classic X, these fortunes should soon change for West, with the brand new subversive slasher deserving to be discussed in the same breath as Hereditary, Get Out and The Babadook. 

Learning his craft at the very base of the industry ladder, with low-budget horror flicks The Roost, Trigger Man and Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever, West experienced every aspect of the genre in his rise to success. Such was proven in 2009’s The House of the Devil, a distinctive, eccentric question mark, sporting a distinctive look and style that recalled the heyday of 1980s horror. 

Paying tribute to the likes of The Amityville Horror and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Ti West’s first major cinematic success placed the filmmaker in a position of genuine influence in the genre. Paying homage to the era whilst toying with its sheer structure and identity, West’s film remains one of the most unconventional horror films of the 21st century, taking a slow, methodical approach to the genre that carefully creates atmosphere with little care for cliché. 

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Simply titled X, West’s latest film takes place in 1979 and once again pays homage to the history of cinema, this time looking at the adult movie industry that gained momentum at the end of the 20th century. Picked up by A24, the new film follows a group of young filmmakers who set out to make a porn film in rural Texas, only for some strange locals to treat their presence with peculiar hostility. 

Constructed with careful cranking tension, West’s movie is an exemplary piece of horror filmmaking, spending much of its time establishing a tone and setting up its characters before descending into chaos. As slow and calculated as his previous genres successes, West subverts and toys with cliché, constantly taking you to places that seem familiar before pulling the rug from beneath your feet. 

What is certainly clear is that the American auteur is a filmmaker with a deep admiration for the horror genre, recognising how the contemporary genre has been born from the conventions of the past. Attempting to decode the relationship between sex and violence that has long been sown into the very fabric of the genre, he creates a valuable piece of horror history that bridges the gap between the censorship of the slasher age and the freedom of the contemporary craft. 

This is best represented by the film’s villains, an elderly couple who represent America’s traditional religious past with undenibale greivances about the sexual freedom of late ‘70s USA. Yearning for their physical intimacy now long-gone, these old antaogonists would be the empty murderers of any other movie, but in Ti West’s horror they are figures of strange sympathy. 

Brushing her fragile grey hair and applying vibrant makeup to her faded face, West scores this scene to the tune of ‘Landslide’ by Fleetwood Mac in an extraordinary moment that breaks the usually solid boundary between hero and villain. Undoubtedly, these two antagonists have twisted views on the world around them, though it seems these ideas are born from jealousy and envy at their own lack of internal liberation. 

Such provides the perfect backdrop for a film that sufficiently reflects the nature of ‘80s horror with blood-splattering gore and moments of genuine levity, as West’s movie turns into a thrilling horror ride rather than a terrifying trip. This is helped when seemingly any door could lead to demise and characters are dispatched with chaotic ease, placing the audience on constant alert. 

With a rousing 1970s soundtrack, Ti West delights in exploring every inch of horror in the late 20th century, leaving no element unturned as he subverts all expectations and provides a sleazy, gory rollercoaster.

Though, in providing several intricate clues to a wider universe, the director brings the genre full circle, announcing a new film that will focus on the origins of the sequel’s titular villain Pearl. Sequels to slashers were commonplace in the ‘80s, though not so much in modern cinema, particularly not for A24, with West once again pioneering new ground.