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Why Ti West's "X" (2022) Is a Success

Kailey is an independent filmmaker and student at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Writer/director Ti West's new film, "X" (2022)

Writer/director Ti West's new film, "X" (2022)

What is X?

In March of 2022, the horror film named X by Ti West was released by the production company A24. The film guarantees a horrific experience, as a group of young adults head out to rural Texas to follow their dreams of creating arthouse pornography, but run into trouble when their elderly hosts writhe with envy of their youthfulness.

As X progresses, so does the slasher trope that the film embodies. West takes a slow approach to build tension before an ending riddled with destruction. The film received extremely positive reviews from Rotten Tomatoes, with less enthusiastic responses from general audiences.

Ti West: More Than Just a Horror Director

Ti West, the director of X, is known for his work in the horror genre of both film and television. His repertoire includes more, though, as he has been heavily involved in other aspects of filmmaking–cinematography, writing, editing, producing, acting and music.

His expansive knowledge about all aspects of filmmaking shows through his work, as the cinematography, sound, and writing all come together to create a level of tension that I personally have not felt from a film in years. He has garnered significant attention in the indie horror film industry because of this well-rounded approach to filmmaking.

The Shining and the Power of Discomfort

According to IMDb, West believes that The Shining (1980) “was the first film to actually make [him] uncomfortable with the idea of ever watching it again.” This statement interests me because I felt the same way about X. Typically I am unphased by horror films, but X left a bitter taste in my mouth in the best way possible.

West has cultivated a work of art that many other accomplished filmmakers are incapable of curating. He has astute attention to detail and background knowledge about the history of film and horror that could even rival Jordan Peele. Using the feeling of disgust to his advantage, X stands out against other slasher films because West took the risk of incorporating sex and elderly people.

Jenna Ortega pays homage to "The Shining" in "X" (2022)

Jenna Ortega pays homage to "The Shining" in "X" (2022)

His decision to include the elderly as a fear factor draws attention to societal norms that hinder the elderly from expressing their sexuality. He acknowledges collective fears of growing so old that sex, a natural human urge, could kill. The film forced me to think about why we may perceive elderly people engaging in sex as so disturbing that we cannot watch.

Fear of Elderly Sexuality

Perception of the elderly’s sexuality reflects that of prepubescent children–practically non-existent. West’s inclusion of commentary on sexuality in old age proves his mastery over the concept of fear and disgust and his ability to implement these preconceived notions of the elderly through storytelling.

The film uses a bit of movie magic to tell its story. According to W Magazine, Mia Goth plays both the young Maxine Minx and Pearl–a decrepit, elderly woman. Maxine has stars in her eyes as she joins the pornography industry with hopes of becoming a star.

Mia Goth Plays Dual Role

Goth’s other character, Pearl, required her “to spend 12 hours getting prosthetics applied” so she could transform into the aged woman who sexually assaults Maxine in the film. Goth gives an impeccable performance for both characters. Because the prosthetics are so well done, I had no clue that she played both characters.

Mia Goth spent hours in the makeup chair getting transformed into Pearl.

Mia Goth spent hours in the makeup chair getting transformed into Pearl.

An elderly actress sometimes plays the role of Pearl when both characters are in the same shot. Goth does an incredible job of depicting both the jealous elderly woman and the younger, sought after woman simultaneously. According to W, Goth jumped between filming Xand taking dance classes for the film Pearl.

Mia Goth: From Nymphomaniac to X

Her first feature, Nymphomaniac (2014) by Lars Von Trier, “provided a blueprint for [her] in terms of the kind of material that [she] wanted to work on,” (Mia Goth in an interview with “Collider”). Her past work certainly informs her involvement in X.

In X, Goth worked alongside Brittany Snow, Kid Cudi, Jenna Ortega, James Gaylyn, Martin Henderson, and Owen Campbell. Casting directors Rebecca Dealy and Jessica Kelly had their work cut out for them, but they did so very successfully. Dealy did casting for films like Hereditary (2018) and Midsommar (2019) and Kelly casted the thriller, The Maze Runner (2014).

Kid Cudi a Pleasant Surprise

The casting of Kid Cudi surprised me most because I always perceived him as a rapper before an actor, but he exceeded my expectations despite my preconception of his work. With both of them having incredible experience in casting for horror or thriller films, they had exactly what it took to cultivate the perfect cast for X.

L–R: Kid Cudi, Brittany Snow's legs, Jenna Ortega, and Owen Campell in "X" (2022)

L–R: Kid Cudi, Brittany Snow's legs, Jenna Ortega, and Owen Campell in "X" (2022)

Eliot Rockett, the cinematographer of X, surprisingly has few feature credits as a director of photography, but still did a wonderful job with X. I was surprised to find that he had so few credits given his ability to capture the horrific essence of X so well.

X an Indie Film Success

With a low budget of $1 million and box office sales that reached $14.5 million, the film was extremely successful. Most films are lucky to break even with their budget, but this film completely surpassed expectations. X proves that a ridiculously high budget does not necessarily mean the film will be any better than one with a lower budget. The quality of X reflects that of any other high budget film.

X left an impact on me that no film has in years. I appreciate the artistic quality the film oozes. X looks like a work of art with a genre that typically does not value quality over gore. Ti West did an outstanding job directing and writing this film, as well as planning the release of Pearl shortly after the release of X.

A24 Does it Again

I would recommend this film to anyone who enjoys horror and appreciates the arthouse quality of A24 films. While this film was enjoyable as a passive spectator, it also intrigued me with its heady evaluation of ageism and sexuality.

Mia Goth as Maxine Minx in "X" (2022)

Mia Goth as Maxine Minx in "X" (2022)

Further Reading