Never Go Into the Backwoods of Texas


There are certain tropes that characters in slasher films simply can't escape. Don't have sex, don't do drugs, and, whatever you do, don't go to a creepy, isoolated cabin out in the Texas backwoods. You can point to the films in the genre that made these rules explicit: the Texas Chainsaw films illustrated the dangers of living in Texas; the Friday the 13thOne of the most famous Slasher film franchises, the Friday the 13th series saw multiple twists and turn before finally settling on the formula everyone knows and loves: Jason Voorhees killing campers 'round Camp Crystal Lake. films showed that teenage sin will get you killed; and (while not slasher films technically) the Evil DeadStarted as a horror cheapie to get the foot in the door for three aspiring filmmakers -- Raimi, Tappert, and Campbell -- Evil Dead grew to have a life of its own, as well as launching the "splatstick" genre of horror-comedy. movies illustrated just how dangerous isolated locations could be. Put them altogether and you have a guaranteed conveyer of death.

You can practically feel those films commenting on Ti West's 2022 slasher gore-fest, X. Even the name, X, is a comment back upon the genre; not only is this a film about charcters going out in the Texas backwoods to film a porno (an "X Rated" film), but many of the greats of the slasher genre have had to modulate their content to avoid the dreaded X rating (back before NC-17 was even a thing). This is a film about slashers that, while not a meta-commentary on the genre, feels like it knows full well exactly what its doing. It knowws it's a slasher just without winking at the camera about it.

The film focuses on Maxine Minx (Mia Goth), a young up-and-comer with dreams of being a star. She's hooked up with Wayne Gilroy (Martin Henderson), a man with big dreams of get rich quick schemes. His latest is to film a porno on the sly and on the cheap. But it'll be an artsy porno, one that really sells the cinematography of the work. With this film, done right, he and his crew can show the world that porn doesn't just have to be about sex, it can also be art. And sex. There is a lot of sex, too.

So the crew -- which includes Maxine and Wayne, other semi-professional pornstars Bobby-Lynne Parker (Brittany Snow) and Jackson Hole (Scott Mescudi), and film crew RJ Nichols (Owen Campbell) and Lorraine Day (Jenna Ortega) -- pack up into a van and drive out into middle of nowhere Texas. There Wayne has the line on a cabin he can rent from a desperate farmer, Howard (Stephen Ure), for a long weekend. His crew will film at the cabin, in the nearby barn, and elsewhere, all to create "The Farmer's Daughters", their opus. Only the farmer he's renting from doesn't know they're making a porno, and would be none-too-happy if he did know. And his wife, Pearl (also Mia Goth), isn't right in the head either. She sees Maxine, notes her resemblance, and suddenly goes off. Blood will flow once husband and wife get her hands on the crew.

Thee setup for the film is pretty basic. Generically so, really, which you would expect for a slasher. A bunch of people head out into an isolated area to party, fuck, and do other ilicit things. Everyone is sinful, no one is trustworthy, and you expect all of them to get killed because that's exactly whst this kind of film demands. Only one person (traditionally a girl) is allowed to survive, and that's so they can move on to some other film where he cycle of violence will continue, on and on. That's the genre and X hews close to that foundation.

That's why, to me, it also feels like a commentary on the genre itself. The setup is simple and doesn't deviate far, except these aren't teens dying here, it's adults. It's adults doing things adults do, like drinking and screwing. When teens do it you expect them to die because they're not "staying within their lane." We have rules that say you aren't supposed to drink until you're 21, you shouldn't have sex out of marriage, don't do this, don't do that. Teens, of course, don't pat attention to all of that (and, really, they shouldn't because those rules are, in many respect, bullshit anyway), but in a slasher they get punished for being sinful teens. To see adults get axed for that reason feels different.

And the film dosen't just have it be adults, but adult film stars. They aren't just doing the things adults are supposed to do, these are the people that do it for money. There's a level of judgment the film puts in, having segments from a preacher yelling about sin play on local TVs during the film. It wants to underline the argument of morality and how what our characters are doing is decidedly sinful. The argument is that anyone being sinful for any reason, in the eyes of the preacher as well as the killers, deserves to die. On one side you have the sinners, on the other you effectively have god.

This is an interesting take, in point of fact, because despite the argument that "sinning is bad" in slasher films, religion hardly ever comes into the picture. We have godlike beings, such as Jason and Freddy and Chucky but they aren't God. They aren't acting as agents of Heaven, so to speak, and while Jason may have gone to hell at one point, he is not a demon in the traditional Judeo-Christian sense. Religion and slashers generally don't go together. They do in X, though.

This is expressed most specifically by the farmer and his wife. Pearl sees a resemblance in Maxine, who looks like a young version of herself. But when she sees, through a window, Pearl fucking a big, black dude, on comera no less, she throws a gear and goes into full-on murder mode. She talks about sin, about how Maxine is degrading herself. She thinks hat killing the people around Maxine will somehow cleanse the girl. She has to eliminate sin, via very violent means, while Maxine gets singled out to either be the final girl, or the final victim, depending on her choices.

These aren't spoilers, by the way, as most of this is laid out in the first act of the film. It's what comes after, the violence, the death, where the film revels and makes all its underlining of its thesis. Sin and slashers, religion and god. And yet, despite the connection, the film is not religious itself. It wants to comment more on the people that believe in the sinfulness of acts. The killers are the religious ones, the victims the young and the lusty. It's the ones that have sex that you know will die, but the film doesn't judge them, it judges the killers. It's the saying, played out in slasher form: "let those who are without sin cast the first stone." The farmer and his wife aren't without sin, and you can feel the gears spinning waiting for the judgement to come spinning back around.

In the process, of course, you then get lots of nudity, lots of gore, and lots of everything else the slasher genre is known for. This is a film that revels in it all, creating a great orgy of sinful delights. The victims and the killers are there to play it all out on the screen for us. Does that make us complicit? Yes. Is there a judgmental eye turned slightly our way as well? Absolutely. We are the gods looks for our amusement, and the film knows it. It doesn't say it out loud, though; it just waits for us to realize it. And in the process it gives us everything we want out of a film like this.