Nearly fifty years after the original “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” made power tools a staple in grisly horror films, an attempted Netflix reboot upped the gore but missed the mark completely. The scariest thing about that movie is its “rotten” Tomatometer Score of 34%.
There isn’t a chainsaw in sight in “X,” a new horror film, now playing in theatres, but it breathes the same fetid air as Tobe Hooper’s 1974 horror classic.
Set in 1979, the film stars Mia Goth as Maxine, an adult entertainer who believes she is destined for a bigger and better life outside the strip club run by her boyfriend Wayne (Martin Henderson doing a spot- on Matthew McConaughey impression). “I will not accept a life I do not deserve,” she says. Her first step to fame and fortune is “The Farmer’s Daughter,” a low budget porno Wayne hopes could blow up and be as popular as “Debbie Does Dallas.” As the film’s executive producer Wayne hires RJ (Owen Campbell), a film student with delusions of arthouse grandeur, his quiet sound technician girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) and porn stars Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow) and Jackson Hole (Scott Mescudi).
They pile into a van headed for rural Texas and a remote farm where they will live and shoot their film. “It’s perfect,” gushes RJ as they arrive at the farm a.k.a. Wayne’s ”studio backlot.” “It’s going to have lots of production value.”
But that’s not all it has. There is a creepy old couple who live in the main house. Wayne neglected to tell farmer Howard (Stephen Ure) why they rented the property. “He doesn’t know what we’re doing, and I intend to keep it that way.”
Despite Wayne’s promise of discretion, Howard and wife Pearl soon find out what’s happening on the sheets, under their roof.
Cue the hillybilly horror.
On the surface “X” is another riff on the “Chainsaw” hapless-city-slickers-vs.-evil-country-folk vibe, but it’s not all blood and guts (though the plasma flows). Howard and Pearl fight against their decaying bodies, resentful of the good-looking folks flaunting their youth and skin on their property. They may be God fearing folks, but that doesn’t stop them from acting on their basest desires. Writer, director and editor Ti West weaves in the primal fears of aging and sexual repression plus a dollop of religious fervor that all add depth to the horror.
The rural setting, the eerie quiet and darkness of the location, takes on a sinister feel as West peppers his sequences with the odd jump scare or anxiety inducing overhead shot.
By the time we get to the really gross stuff, West has already established “X’s” slow burn atmosphere, adding layer upon layer of tension and subtext as amuse-bouches for the bursts of violence that come in the third act. West stages some truly unpleasant kill sequences, perfect for slasher fans but may cause uncontrolable shudders in others.
“X” is a throwback to the horror of Tobe Hooper and Wes Craven, but with a sensibility that simultaneously feels like a tribute and an update.