Ti West’s “X” proves to be a knock-out poignantly hilarious exploitation mashup horror film about sexuality and ageism. Staring Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Kid Cudi, and Martin Henderson, West successfully plays with a variety of themes nailing the delicate balance of humor and terror. Thanks to German label Capelight Pictures, the film scores a terrific 4K Ultra HD Blur-ray Mediabook release with an often stunning Dolby Vision HDR transfer and a terrific moody Atmos audio track with a fine selection of bonus features. Highly Recommended
Huston, Texas nudie bar owner Wayne (Martin Henderson) has an idea to take the porn market by storm. With the advent of home video, he aims to corner the market by producing his own low-budget porno epic “The Farmer’s Daughters” starring his girlfriend Maxine (Mia Goth), his star dancer Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), leading man Jackson (Kid Cudi), along with the filmmaking duo RJ (Owen Campbell) and his girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega). Piled into their van they head out into rural Texas renting a house on the property of an elderly farmer (Stephen Ure) and his wife Pearl to shoot their exploits on the cheap and in privacy, only the old man and woman have a dark purpose of their own for renting out their dilapidated property to outsiders.
So whenever I hear any hype or “buzz” around a movie or show, my tendency is to go dark on it avoiding all talk, discussion, and trailers as best as possible. I’m usually pretty good at it with very minimal bleed-through. I do this because I don’t want a trailer to ruin any best moments of the film and then I also don’t want any randos in a comment section to ruin a twist or just flat-out influence my expectations with overly positive or negative hot takes. I may grab a review from a few critics or friends I know personally with similar tastes and skim for some talking points, but that’s as far as I go. With Ti West’s X, I went in as cold as possible and was floored by it.
Clearly inspired by Tobe Hooper’s iconic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, X drops numerous nods and winks while charting its own path into the realm of exploitation horror. The film is thrilling, hilarious, terrifying, and most surprisingly poignant. West deftly manages the humor of a bunch of nobodies shooting a porno in rural Texas (New Zealand was actually the stand-in location), while exploring the horror of a creepy old farm and its owners. The scares come steady and easy as the plot slowly reveals itself. And as the twists and turns come about the humor slips away as West deftly weaves in poignant takes on patriarchal sexism while also taking some knocks at overt ageism. And just because it’s a genuinely smart horror film doesn’t mean it skimps on gore! But that’s all I’m going to say there.
In addition to the smart direction and script, X is held together by a universally excellent cast that plays to various stock character archetypes but also bends the rules they’d normally live or die by. Mia Goth is the genuine stand-out of the film and carries a lot of the weightiest pieces. Martin Henderson is downright hilarious as the would-be porno magnate while Kid Cudi is given plenty of moments to shine in serious as well as humorous lights. Brittany Snow is equally skilled in that regard as the smarter-than-she-seems Bobby-Lynne while Jenna Ortega and Owen Campbell’s characters offer a lot of thematic heft as young lovers caught up in this seedy industry.
With X becoming a genuine hit with critics and fans, Ti West has cooked up an entire little cinematic universe with the prequel Pearl that earned huge heaps of praise from the likes of Martin Scorsese with a sequel currently filming and slated to arrive sometime in 2023. People like to throw out the chestnut term “elevated horror” to describe something like X - I personally think that’s just a nonsense buzzword to describe a film that’s smartly thematic while sticking true to the genre that spawned it. X is a smart horror film with a brilliant concept told well with solid writing, directing, and a great cast. It delivers the scares. It delivers the laughs. It's entertaining from start to finish.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Ti West’s X strips down on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray with a two-disc Mediabook release from German label Capelight Pictures. The 4K version of the film picks up a BD-100 Disc while the 1080p version is pressed on a Region Free BD-50 disc. You have a couple of options picking this one up, I went with the Mediabook featuring the theatrical poster art, but there’s another Mediabook with a woman’s legs walking towards the farmhouse creating the title, and there’s also a two-disc SteelBook option as well. Also included in the Mediabook is 24-pages of photos, artwork, and an interview with Ti West in German - but using Google Translate on my phone, it’s easy to read.
For this release of X, Capelight delivers a genuinely gorgeous 1.90:1 2160p Dolby Vision (with HDR10, and HDR10+) transfer. On one side of the picture you have the main film itself that looks slick and polished but then you have the interludes of the “porno” that’s being shot that’s decidedly rougher and more amateurishly produced and this transfer never betrays these competing image aesthetics. For the primary film details are crisp and clear - often very much so for key makeup and gore effects with a natural grain structure. For the film within the film, grain is heavier, clarity is a little sloppy on purpose with a softer focus - but still looks great.
The Dolby Vision transfer is a knockout. Without initially knowing the ode to Hooper’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre - I immediately picked up on the color scheme of reds, blues, and olive drab green seen throughout that film. Bobby-Lynne's sharp bright red outfit is a nice callback to Pam’s bright red shorts. Likewise, there’s the framing of a character entering the dark farmhouse with the camera down a long hallway that’s right out of Kirk’s infamous demise. Throughout the Dolby Vision pass handles these shifts in light and dark and color with ease allowing for excellent primary presence, beautiful shadows and black levels, and crisp whites without blooming issues. Skin tones… as we see a lot of are healthy and natural looking. I’m not setup for HDR10+ so I don’t know how well that pops, but I can’t imagine it being too different from Dolby Vision. Regardless, it’s nice to see Capelight offer up both competing dynamic HDR metadata formats so no one misses out on the best possible presentation for this horrifically beautiful piece of work.
Being a German release, the disc’s default audio track is a Deutsch DTS-HD MA 5.1, but this disc also comes packed with an excellent English Dolby Atmos mix. While this track isn’t always active in a way that typically defines most Atmos releases, it’s nonetheless a very good mix. Dialog is clean and clear throughout without issue. The hauntingly creepy score by Tyler Bates and Chelsea Wolfe creeps into the mix in all the best places keeping the mood dark and ominous without overpowering the other elements within the soundscape. Height channels are largely used to define space like the farmhouse or the various “sets” the crew is shooting their little movie. A little creek of wood here and there or the buzzing of insects drifts into the heights for some nice pinpoint-specific effects. Sides and rears are likewise engaged in a way that sets the scene without constantly being overworked. All around a great mix.
While this release isn’t given a ton of bonus features, there are some fun little tidbits to pick into. The meatiest bits come from the interview printed in the booklet, so again pop open that Google Translate app and give it a read. But also included is the Film-with-in-a-Film “The Farmer’s Daughters" - it’s only a few minutes long and doesn’t feature any of the sexual hijinks depicted in the main film, but it’s a fun little extra. After that are a pair of featurettes that lean a bit heavily on the spoiler side so don’t watch them until you’ve already seen the film. There’s not a ton here so I do hope a bigger more elaborate release comes along - maybe a trilogy set of all the films - that’s loaded with extras because what’s here doesn’t really scratch the surface much.
4K Ultra HD Blu-ray / Blu-ray Disc
Ti West’s X was one hell of a surprise release. Going into it as cold as possible knowing only it was a flick folk were talking about, it proved to be a delightfully horrific and often hilarious experience. Thanks to West’s sharp script and direction along with a terrific cast, the film has a lot to say while never forgetting it’s there to entertain an audience hungry for ample and often shocking kills and gore. Thanks to Capelight Pictures, X picks up an excellent 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release. I went for the two-disc Mediabook with the original poster cover artwork and came away thoroughly impressed with the Dolby Vision transfer (again HDR10 and HDR10+ are also available) and the Atmos audio track. Bonus features are unfortunately slim but still interesting, especially the interview in the booklet. Maybe a 4K release will come to this side of the Atlantic, but until then, this German import is Highly Recommended.