X ★★★★½

If I had to give an alien race who just landed on earth one film to watch to help them better understand the totality of the human condition, it would probably be this. An awful lot of this film is spent genuinely interrogating the divide between insecurity and overconfidence. Thoughtfully exploring all the subtle gradational hues to be found traversing that particular personality spectrum. Then ruminatively reckoning with all the reasons one would take up residence at whichever spot they landed betwixt those opposing psychological poles. 

And that’s just one aspect of what arises from the boondoggle of human consciousness. This film manages to explore damn near all of them during its brisk runtime. The degree to which awareness of our “selves” occasions the creation of so many defense mechanisms and coping strategies, to say nothing of the fraught minefield of interpersonal interaction. Which only confounds and stymies us exponentially, further exacerbating conflicts both external and internal. All this topped off by the overarching theme of old age perpetually coming to destroy the flower of youth. To rent asunder all its hopeful naïveté, laying waste to youth’s gleeful self deception that it won’t one day simply become all that it previously feared and held at arm’s length. The abhorrent becoming that life eventually foists on us all. 

Every one of us incrementally breaking down and curdling like spoiled milk. The base elements of what and who we once were struggling to assert themselves in the mirror, until we abjectly relinquish vanity and retreat into dejected solitude. What sort of monster does that transform us into over time? Physically, mentally, spiritually. I’m reading The Picture of Dorian Gray currently, so X turned out to be unexpectedly illuminating supplemental material. 

So, that stuff is all there. Apart from a positively inspired moment utilizing an impromptu acoustic performance of Landslide, it doesn’t obnoxiously belabor its themes. But they’re there, alright. Luckily, if you just want an achingly beautifully shot horror film, with visceral violence, strong scares and a host of interesting, likable characters essayed by a uniformly strong cast, then X is your huckleberry. 

I’m in the minority camp that thought House of the Devil was a stupid, boring wank, so I got off the Ti West hype train right then and there. Apparently he’s been evolving like Cyberdine, learning at a geometric rate, these last 13 years. Cause this movie is goddamn near perfect. From its opening push-in shot, you can tell someone possessing true mastery is behind the camera. The shot compositions and lighting in this had me making Patrick Bateman face for like 100 straight minutes. There’s this one sequence where Jenna Ortega is sent to procure a flashlight and the way West shoots it with the shaft of light from the stairwell cleaving into the impenetrable darkness of the basement made me audibly gasp. And there’s like, no joke, 70 shots that good in this. 

So this looks unreal across the board. West improbably finds a way to expertly straddle the line between making a film that feels authentically 70’s, but pulses with tasteful modernity. X is EXACTLY what horror should be doing right now. Reconfiguring the legacy of the genre to tell original stories that dissect current dilemmas from a fresh perspective. Throwing in an absolutely fucking killer score from Tyler Bates and Chelsea Wolfe sure doesn’t hurt.

And this cast is remarkable. Mia Goth deserves Oscar consideration and mainstream recognition for all she’s accomplishing here. It’s bold, smart, powerful work and if there were any justice, this would make her a major star. Martin Henderson blew me away in this, and him saying “you’ve never been 42 and I’ve been 23” to the inexperienced film maker was essentially every interaction I’ve had with those vastly younger than me on Letterboxd. I wanted to stand up and applaud that line and Henderson’s reading of it. But that would have been pretty silly to do alone in my home theater. Mescudi, Snow, and Ortega are also all great. One of the most likable casts I’ve seen in some time. 

I don’t know, my dudes. I expected I’d hate this, but have to concede it is truly spectacular. It’s one of those elementally perfect horror films, where during the runtime you can sense its many considerable ambitions exquisitely coalescing into something vastly more profound than the mere trappings of its genre. It’s clever, meaningful, thought provoking, entertaining and stupendously assembled. From the editing to the sound design to blocking, shots and camera moves, to the execution of the gore effects and jump scares, this is everything a horror film can and should strive to be.

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