Review: ‘X’ (2022), starring Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow and Scott Mescudi

March 17, 2022

by Carla Hay

Mia Goth in “X” (Photo by Christopher Moss/A24)

“X” (2022)

Directed by Ti West

Culture Representation: Taking place in Texas in 1979, the horror film “X” features a cast of predominantly white characters (with one Latina and two African Americans) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Six people go to a rented farm to make a porn movie, but the elderly spouses who own the farm show their violent disapproval. 

Culture Audience: “X” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of writer/director Ti West and horror flicks that skillfully blend horror with satirical comedy.

Pictured clockwise, from left: Owen Campbell, Brittany Snow, Mia Goth, Scott Mescudi and Jenna Ortega in “X” (Photo by Christopher Moss/A24)

“X” is a horror film that doesn’t break any new ground, but this “slow burn” movie delivers some gruesome terror with touches of social satire that can bring some laughs. Written and directed by horror master Ti West, “X” is sure to count as one of his best movies. Will “X” be considered an iconic classic that influences other horror films? No. However, “X” takes a simple concept that other slasher movies mishandle and makes it something that horror fans can thoroughly enjoy, as long as people can tolerate watching some bloody violence that can be nauseating to some viewers.

“X” had its world premiere at the 2022 South by Southwest Film Festival in Austin, Texas. It’s fitting that the movie premiered in Texas, since the story takes place mostly in a rural and unnamed part of Texas. (“X” was actually filmed in New Zealand.) In “X,” the year is 1979, when porn movies made in the U.S. got an “X” rating for adults-only content. Six people in the adult film industry are going on a road trip to an isolated farm that the producer has rented, in order to make a porn film called “The Farmer’s Daughter.” This porn movie is a very low-budget film with only one camera.

The six people on this fateful trip are:

  • Wayne Gilroy (played by Martin Henderson), a brash, fast-talking middle-aged producer whose immediate goal in life is for “The Farmer’s Daughter” to be a blockbuster porn movie—or at least make a fraction of what “Debbie Does Dallas” made, so that Wayne can get out of debt.
  • Maxine Minx (played by Mia Goth), an up-and-coming actress who wants to be as famous as “Wonder Woman” TV star Lynda Carter. Off camera, Maxine (who’s in her 20s) is Wayne’s lover (he left his wife for her), and Wayne has promised to make Maxine a star. Maxine also has a cocaine habit, since she’s seen snorting coke several times in the movie.
  • Bobby-Lynne Parker (played by Brittany Snow), an experienced porn actress in her 30s, who styles her physical appearance like Marilyn Monroe, and who likes to think of herself as the reigning Southern belle of porn.
  • Jackson Hole (played by Scott Mescudi), the porn name of a well-endowed actor in his 30s who is the only male cast member doing the porn scenes in “The Farmer’s Daughter.” Bobby-Lynne and Jackson are also sex partners off-camera, in a “friends with benefits” relationship.
  • RJ Nichols (played by Owen Campbell), the director of “The Farmer’s Daughter.” RJ, who’s in his late 20s, likes to think that the porn movies he directs are cinematic art.
  • Lorraine Day (played by Jenna Ortega), RJ’s girlfriend, a “jack of all trades” crew member who is essentially RJ’s assistant. Lorraine is in her late teens or early 20s and is relatively new to the adult film industry. She’s eager to learn all that she can about filmmaking.

The movie’s opening scene shows viewers that this porn movie shoot will result in a massacre, since police officers arrive at the farm and see several bloody and mutilated dead bodies. The movie circles back to this crime scene at the end of the film. The rest of “X” shows what happened 24 hours earlier, leading up to the massacre.

It takes a while for “X” to get going, since the first half of the movie is about the road trip, arriving at the farm, and filming the sex scenes. The farm is owned by an elderly couple named Howard (played by Stephen Ure), nicknamed Howie, and his wife Pearl (also played by Goth), who have been married to each other for decades. Ure and Goth wear balding hair pieces and prosthetic makeup that give creepy and decrepit physical appearances to Howard and Pearl. Goth gives an absolutely maniacal performance as Pearl, who is much more disturbed and volatile than Howard.

Howard is a cantankerous veteran of World War I and World War II. The first thing that Howard does when he sees Wayne is pull a gun on him, until Wayne reminds Howard that he’s the movie producer who’s renting the farm for a film shoot. Wayne doesn’t tell this farm couple that this film shoot is for a porn movie, but Howard and Pearl inevitably find out because they’re on the property during this film shoot.

Pearl is starved for affection from her husband. When she tries to make amorous advances on Howard, he pushes her away and mentions his heart condition when he says, “You know I can’t. My heart.” Pearl is a former dancer who sees a lot of younger herself in Maxine and instantly fixates on Maxine. Pearl is also a voyeur, so it should come as no surprise that Pearl ends up watching one of the sex scenes that’s being filmed in the barn. And when she finds out that a porn movie is being made on her property, all hell breaks loose.

Before the murder and mayhem begin, “X” makes some sly commentary on how gender affects perceptions and judgments of people’s involvement in porn. This small cast and crew of “The Farmer’s Daughter” are a microcosm of larger issues in the adult film industry: Men are usually in charge and usually make the business decisions. The women are usually expected to follow orders.

Women in adult entertainment also get more of society’s stigma and degradation, compared to men in adult entertainment. A woman is much more likely than a man to be called a “whore” for doing porn. This derogatory name-calling happens in a scene in “X,” even though for “The Farmer’s Daughter” porn movie, a man is just as much of a participant in the sex scenes as the women. There’s a moment in the movie where one of the women flips the proverbial script and makes a decision that greatly upsets one of the men.

And because there are three couples on this trip, their dynamics also represent the types of relationships that can occur in the adult film industry. Wayne and Maxine represent a stereotypical older filmmaker who hooks up with a young actress and tells her a lot of big talk about making her a star. Bobby-Lynne and Jackson are swingers who don’t have any commitment in their relationship and don’t want to be bound by traditional sexual expectations. RJ and Lorraine represent people who are in the porn industry only to get filmmaking experience so that they can move on to mainstream movies.

“X” has the expected sex scenes, but there are also scenes that show the type of camaraderie that can happen during a film production. On their first night after filming scenes from “The Farmer’s Daughter,” the cast and crew hang out and have some drinks together. Bobby-Lynne leads a toast where she says, “Here’s to the perverts who’ve been paying our bills for years!”

After this toast, Bobby-Lynne sings Fleetwood Mac’s “Landslide,” while Jackson plays acoustic guitar. Snow’s performance of “Landslide” is very good and one of the unexpected highlights in this horror film. This laid-back party scene is effective in showing how the people in this group have no idea what’s in store for them.

“X” has a few nods to 1970s horror classics, such as 1974’s “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and 1978’s “Halloween.” The comparisons to “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” are obvious. In “X,” Blue Oyster Cult’s 1976 song “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” song is played during a pivotal scene. Horror aficionados know that “Don’t Fear the Reaper” was also prominently featured in 1978’s “Halloween.”

Even though the first half of “X” doesn’t have any real terror, “X” still manages to keep viewers on edge over what might happen. There’s no real mystery of who the villains are, because this is a slasher flick that clearly forecasts who will be the perpetrators of the violence. Although the ideas in “X” aren’t very original, they’re still filmed in very suspenseful ways. And there’s an interesting twist/reveal toward the end of the film. Ultimately, “X” doesn’t pretend to be anything other than what it is: a worthy tribute to retro slasher films that makes “X” memorable in its own right.

A24 will release “X” in U.S. cinemas on March 18, 2022. The movie is set for release on digital and VOD is April 14, 2022.

Review: ‘Hooking Up,’ starring Brittany Snow and Sam Richardson

March 20, 2020

by Carla Hay

Sam Richardson and Brittany Snow in “Hooking Up” (Photo courtesy of Saban Films)

“Hooking Up” (2020)

Directed by Nico Raineau

Culture Representation: Set in Atlanta, Dallas and various other U.S. cities, the sex comedy “Hooking Up” has a diverse cast of characters (white, African American and Asian) who represent the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A man and a woman who are almost complete opposites find themselves going on a personal and sexual journey with each other.

Culture Audience: “Hooking Up” will appeal primarily to viewers who like low-concept, slightly off-kilter raunchy comedies with questionable humor.

Sam Richardson and Anna Akana in “Hooking Up “(Photo courtesy of Saban Films)

In an attempt to set itself apart from other sex comedies, “Hooking Up” has some bizarre plot elements that actually lower the quality of this already lowbrow movie. It isn’t until the last third of the film that the movie gets better. But by then, it’s too little too late.

“Hooking Up” is the feature-film debut of Nico Raineau, who co-wrote the movie’s uneven screenplay with Lauren Schacher. It begins, as many sex comedies do, with people having sex. In this case, the sex scene is with a nymphomaniac in her 30s named Darla Beane (played by Brittany Snow), who’s doing the deed very loudly with an older guy named Charlie (played by Rob Moran). The two of them are in Atlanta and are going at it in an empty elementary school classroom, of all places. And it’s clear from their encounter that Darla is a very bossy and selfish lover.

As Darla abruptly gets up and leaves the classroom, she accidentally bumps into 30-year-old nice guy Bailey Brighton (played by Sam Richardson) in the hallway. He asks her what she was doing in the classroom, and she sarcastically replies that she was there for a parent-teacher conference. Is Darla a parent or a teacher? Neither. She’s a sex addict and she’s at the school for an after-hours group therapy meeting with Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA).

It’s her first SLAA meeting, and Darla isn’t thrilled to be there at all, because she’s only there under a court order. What did she do to get in trouble? It’s not really made clear, but it’s hinted at later in the movie. As Darla angrily tells a member of the group, she doesn’t belong there because she’s not an addict.

Just when Darla has made it abundantly clear that she’s not interested in making friends in the group, in walks the group leader: It’s Charlie, the guy she had sex with moments before. Darla and Charlie both look surprised to see each other, but viewers shouldn’t be. After all, how many group therapy sessions are taking place after hours at the same time in this school?

As it turns out, there’s another group-therapy session taking place in another area of the school. It’s for a group of cancer survivors. And Bailey is one of them. He has testicular cancer, and it’s resulted in the removal of his left testicle. Bailey’s group already knows that he’s had this procedure.

And unfortunately, viewers know about it too because Bailey’s genital area is constantly used for ongoing crude jokes in the movie. This type of humor (especially for people who’ve had body parts removed because of cancer) is bound to make some people uncomfortable and possibly offended because the jokes really aren’t that clever or funny.

Soon after viewers see Darla and Bailey in their respective group therapy sessions, we see what Darla and Bailey do for a living. Darla works as a sex columnist for a local women’s lifestyle magazine called ATL Style. And viewers see that Darla isn’t just rude and abrasive at therapy sessions she doesn’t want to go to—she’s rude and abrasive all the time.

Bailey works in a lowly position at a gym. In a FaceTime chat that Bailey has with his loving but overbearing parents—Ron Brighton (played by Bryan Pitts) and Cindy Brighton (played by Vivica A. Fox)—viewers see that Bailey’s father is a successful gym owner who is expanding his business in their hometown of Dallas.

The movie goes to great lengths to show how opposite Darla and Bailey are. While Darla openly watches porn on her work computer, Bailey is moping around at his job because he’s nursing a broken heart over his recent breakup with his high-school sweetheart Elizabeth “Liz” Cartwright (played by Anna Akana), whom he still stalks on Instagram. Later in the movie, Bailey reveals that he moved to Atlanta because Liz moved there too.

Bailey is so stuck on Liz that he calls her and asks her out on a date, even though they’ve broken up. It’s in this scene that viewers find out that Liz was the one who dumped Bailey. She tells him that their breakup is for the best and that he should move on and meet new people, because that’s what she’s doing. Later, she stops by the gym to give Bailey a box of his belongings that he hadn’t bothered to pick up after their breakup. It’s clear from their interactions that Bailey’s life revolved around Liz, and now he feels lost without her.

And then, Darla and Bailey each gets bad news. Darla gets fired because her boss Tanya (played by Jordana Brewster) thinks that the quality of Darla’s work has gone downhill. Tanya is also tired of putting up with Darla’s shenanigans, which included Tanya having to settle a sexual-harassment lawsuit that was brought against Darla, who has a habit of hooking up with co-workers.

Darla also had sex with a male intern in an empty conference room and recorded the encounter on video. Bizarrely, the video is played on the TV screen in Tanya’s office while Darla gets fired. It’s meant to be a funny part of the movie, but it’s downright creepy to have a boss watch a sex video of an employee while the employee is sitting right in front of the boss. Darla begs Tanya not to fire her (Darla shouts, “I’m the Oprah of orgasms!”), but Tanya is unmoved.

Meanwhile, during a visit to his doctor, Bailey finds out that the testicular cancer that he thought was in remission has now returned with a vengeance. A lump in his right testicle shows that his right testicle will have to be removed too. Feeling anxious and depressed, Bailey shows up unannounced at a restaurant where Liz is (he knows she’s there at that moment because she did an Instagram Story about it) and finds her at a table that’s set for two people. Viewers can see from the items that are on the table that she’s there with a date (who stepped away for a few moments), but a distressed Bailey doesn’t see these visual clues and plops down at the seat opposite from Liz, drinks from a nearby wine glass,  and says he needs to tell her something important.

Liz is visibly annoyed and starts to lecture Bailey about how he needs to move on with his life. She also lets it slip that she’s going back to their hometown of Dallas for her mother’s retirement party. Before Bailey can tell her about the bad news about his medical condition, Liz’s date shows up and that’s the end of the conversation.

At another SLAA meeting with Darla and the rest of the group, they’re each given a map of the U.S. where, as a therapy exercise, they have to mark places on the map where they’ve had sex. It’s another weird element to this movie that doesn’t make sense, but it’s used as a basis for the plot. At this SLAA meeting, Bailey suddenly shows up very drunk and blurts out to the entire group that his right testicle is going to be removed because of the cancer. Eventually, Bailey makes his way to his cancer therapy session. The only purpose of this “drunken outburst” scene is to set up the “coincidence” that happens when Bailey and Darla see each other later and she already knows about his testicular cancer.

The map gives Darla the idea to take a road trip, relive her sexual encounters at as many places where she’s had sex before, and write about it. She contacts her ex-boss Tanya to pitch the idea for the story. After some persistent begging, Tanya reluctantly agrees that Darla can blog about her experiences for the magazine’s website, but she won’t be paid for it. Darla eagerly agrees, which shows you how desperate she is.

While at a bar, Darla and Bailey see each other and strike up a conversation. Darla already knows about Bailey’s recent troubles, but she doesn’t tell Bailey what’s going on in her life. All she’ll say is that she’s a writer, but she doesn’t mention that she writes about sex and that she’s recently been fired from her job. Even though Bailey works at a gym, his dream job is to be an illustrator artist, but he tells Darla that his parents discouraged him from having this dream because it’s very difficult for artists to make a solid income. (Bailey’s artwork in the movie is very much like what one would see in a comic strip.)

When Bailey sees Darla’s map, he asks her what it’s for, and she tells him. She also mentions that she wants to recreate her sexual experiences on a road trip and invites Bailey to go with her on the trip. Bailey is very reluctant at first, but then says he’ll go on the trip with Darla, on the condition that they make a stop in Dallas at some point during the trip. And so begins the road trip that takes up about 60% of the movie.

Even though Darla and Bailey had a “meet cute” moment when they first met in the school hallway, it’s important for viewers to know in advance that “Hooking Up” isn’t much of a romantic comedy because there’s very little romance in the movie. Darla and Bailey, who end up being “no strings attached” sex partners on the trip, aren’t really friends for most of the story, and they’re definitely not falling in love with each other.

In fact, Bailey is still hung up on Liz and is posting photos of himself and Darla together on his social media, in the hope that Liz will see the pictures and get jealous. He wants to go to Dallas to show off Darla to Liz. Meanwhile, Darla is using Bailey by blogging about their sexcapades, including details about what it’s like having a one-testicled man as a sex partner. The movie wants viewers to believe that for most of the trip, Bailey and Darla don’t know about each other’s online/Internet activities.

On the trip, Bailey finds out that Darla has a thing for having sex in places (public and private) where she might get caught. (It probably also explains why she ended up being in court-ordered sex-addiction therapy.) But the movie takes Darla’s sex re-enactment quest to a weird tangent when more than once in the story, Darla and Bailey break into someone’s private home to have sex.

Up until this point, Bailey is so straight-laced that when Darla asks him how many sex partners he’s had in his life, he confesses to Darla that he’s only had sex with two people: his ex-girlfriend Liz and Darla. Meanwhile, Darla (who says she’s had sex with 169 people and counting) responds when she finds out that Bailey has had sex with only two people in his life: “That’s the most terrifying thing I ever heard, other than ‘Smell this rag’ and ‘I think I love you.'” That’s what passes for a joke in this movie.

But once Darla and Bailey start breaking into people’s houses, it’s when the movie will probably start to alienate viewers because the break-ins are just so bizarre and unrelatable. Even if the house is empty, what if someone who lives there comes home? What if a neighbor sees them and calls the police? Darla is not that much of a prize (she’s a very troubled and angry woman) and there’s nothing for Bailey to gain by risking a possible arrest for breaking-and-entering or trespassing.

Even though it’s believable that Bailey would start to loosen up around Darla, it’s a bit of an unrealistic stretch that he would gleefully start sneaking into people’s houses just to have sex with her. But that’s what happens, and it doesn’t ring true that he would go through such an extreme transformation in such a short period of time. (And he’s not intoxicated when he makes these decisions.)

It’s during one of these break-ins that the movie takes a very dark turn when Darla confesses a secret about the previous sexual encounter she had in the house. It’s the first time that viewers see that Darla has a heart, because she actually cries with guilt over a tragedy that happened because of what she thought was a meaningless escapade. But then, after that emotionally raw scene, the movie goes back to its silly, slapstick-ish tone. It’s like trying to throw in a scene that wants to be Meryl Streep in an Adam Sandler comedy.

As the two main characters, Snow and Richardson don’t have much chemistry together, although Richardson has better comedic timing than Snow. But then again, they’re playing two mismatched people who start off in a very awkward situation, which continues for the vast majority of the movie. Some of the best acting in the movie is not from the two lead actors but from supporting actors Akana (as Bailey’s ex-girlfriend Liz) and Amy Pietz, who plays Darla’s mother Betty in scenes that somewhat explain why Darla turned out to be such a hard-edged nympho. The screenplay is what’s most problematic about this movie, because some of the dialogue and situations in “Hooking Up” are just plain dumb and cringeworthy.

“Hooking Up” has a somewhat predictable ending, but it’s not as predictable as people might think it is. The first two-thirds of the film are pretty awful, and the last third is actually watchable, but it can’t quite make up for the movie’s beginning and middle. It’s like trying to use air refreshener to cover up the stink that comes from something rotting in the room.

Saban Films released “Hooking Up” on digital and VOD on March 20, 2020.

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