The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Senior citizens terrorize sexed-up 20-somethings in the silly retro slasher flick 'X'

Old folks go ‘Boo!’ in borderline offensive horror film about amateur adult filmmakers (and we use the term adult loosely)

From left, Owen Campbell, Brittany Snow, Mia Goth, Scott Mescudi, Jenna Ortega. (Christopher Moss/A24)
3 min
(2 stars)

The cheesy aesthetic of late-1970s and early-1980s filmmaking — harnessed, to hugely popular appeal, if not great artistic effect, in “Stranger Things” — is front and center in “X,” a sexy meta-slasher flick that uses the look and feel of both the era’s horror movies and its adult films to dress up what is essentially an otherwise commonplace saga of the bloodied-but-unbowed Final Girl (in B-movie parlance, the last surviving member of a group, victimized by a killer, to confront the murderer).

Written and directed by Ti West (“Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever”), the 1979-set ″X” follows the unfortunate fates of the cast and crew of an ultra low-budget adult film called “The Farmer’s Daughter.” Set on a rural Texas farm and following the predictable contours of many a dirty joke centering on the stock character — make that caricature — of a sexually rapacious young woman and a lucky male traveler, the film-within-a-film is a series of nudges and winks hinting at bygone tropes and stereotypes. Some are more offensive than others: An afroed Scott Mescudi, a.k.a. Kid Cudi, plays the sexually prolific traveler, who gets to make on-camera whoopee with not only his blond girlfriend (Brittany Snow), but the girlfriend (Mia Goth) of the film’s producer (Martin Henderson) and the girlfriend (Jenna Ortega) of its director (Owen Campbell). Campbell, whose character is a aspiring cinéaste who references the French New Wave, gets the nudgiest, winkiest dialogue. “It’s possible to make a good dirty movie,” he says to his sweetheart, Lorraine, who initially disapproves of all this hardcore carnality — until she, for implausible reasons, decides to join in.

It certainly is possible to make such a movie, but I’m not sure “X” is the most compelling argument.

Still, it has certain je ne sais quoi, if graphic nudity, self-referential humor and serial murder — neck stabbing, eye gouging, alligator munching and shotgun blasting — are your thing. The victims, as in many movies of this ilk, are young people who enjoy sex. And the villains are the elderly proprietor of the remote farm where the crew has set up shop (Stephen Ure) and his equally elderly wife. Oddly, they’re the villains not because they don’t enjoy sex, but because they do. The wife, Pearl, who looks likes she’s about 150 but still enjoys a roll in the hay, is resentful that her superannuated husband is unable to perform because of a weak heart, so she takes out her sexual frustration on the kids. The fact that she’s played by Goth, doing double duty in fairly convincing if cartoonish old-age makeup, is troubling. It suggests that senior citizens are inherently scary or something to laugh at — and ones who are randy are scarier, and more laughable, still.

Perhaps to this film’s young target demographic — arguably, people who weren’t even born yet in the year in which it’s set — there is nothing more terrifying than an old lady who still feels sexual desire. To anyone old enough to have lived through 1979 — and to harbor no nostalgia for the inartfulness of DIY porn and VHS slasher movies, “X” is less of a treat.

On the other hand, who knew that a stupid movie — part bloodbath, part skin flick — would offer the viewer not only so much to think about, but so much to look forward to? A prequel has already been shot, starring Goth as the younger Pearl.

R. At area theaters. Contains bloody violence and gore, strong sexual material, graphic nudity, drug use and crude language. 105 minutes.