There is a sequence in “X,” Ti West’s new horror movie, that concentrates all the visual power of a film whose highly referential images play with humor, sex and blood. It is a moment as captivating as it is terrifying. The protagonist, played by the magnetic Mia Goth, swims naked in a swamp near the farm where she and a group of acquaintances are shooting a low-cost porn movie. As in John Everett Millais’s iconic pre-Raphaelite painting Ophelia, Goth’s body floats in the water, defying both nature and darkness. The viewer knows that a huge crocodile has its eyes set on her. Her transparent eyebrows and electric-blue makeup highlight her strange beauty, and the sequence draws out the complex nature of a character as innocent as she is wild, her painted eyes against the power of an ancient animal.
“X” is a tribute to the B-movies of seventies cinema, paying special homage to “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Deep Throat.” The film offers a fantastical immersion in America’s worst fears and its convoluted forms of puritanical paganism. Its detailed setting gives the work a chilling atmosphere, and its humor makes its banquet of viscera digestible.
The story begins in a brothel, where two strippers are ready to shoot an auteur porn movie. Goth, Brittany Snow and Jenna Ortega excel in their roles. Bare-breasted in overalls, Goth stands out as a passionate character strolling through a dusty farmhouse full of secrets.
Ti West takes on the obligatory butchery of young bodies from a perspective increasingly prominent in today’s horror cinema: old age, this time explored through an old woman’s voracious sexual appetite. It is the least convincing part of a film that offers a fresh, intelligent play on the genre, without falling into fatuous winks.