There's a moment in Ti West's X in which Jenna Ortega's Lorraine (aka the un-affectionately nicknamed "Church Mouse") has just participated in a conversation amongst her co-crew regarding the professionalism of porn and the separation between having sex for the cameras versus intimacy with someone you love, in privacy.
The earlier-described "prude" Lorraine asks her fellow crew members how they can watch each other film sex scenes with other people while they're romantically involved with others in their personal lives. The cast and crew of The Farmer's Daughters (the movie within the movie), consisting of Mia Goth's Maxine, Brittany Snow's Bobby-Lynne, Martin Henderson's Wayne, and Scott Mescudi's Jackson, all agree that sex is just sex, and attraction is just human nature— while who they love and partner up with remains separate and unaffected.
"Someday we're gonna be too old to f*ck," Bobby-Lynne says. "And life is too short."
And the cherry (pun intended) on top of this scene is the outcome: Lorraine wants to f*ck too— she wants to do a scene in the movie. As her clothes come off, so does her Christian cross necklace. The other women help her get dolled up for the camera. Her "prude" accuser boyfriend, Farmer's Daughters director RJ (Owen Campbell), initially refuses and throws a hissy fit after the deed is done. RJ then becomes the first victim in the Texas Pearl Massacre due to his own prudishness and refusal to give it to an old lady. It's unlike anything horror has gotten as of late.
Sex hasn't been much of a staple in horror for the last decade or so. The occasional exceptions like Teeth or It Follows turned sex into something somewhat metaphysical or something to be feared, but not necessarily a source of pleasure. Then here comes sex-positive X, which not only offers it up on a silver platter, but makes it look fun again. From the van's aptly labeled "Plowing Service" to Snow's movie-within-the-movie line read of "Would you like to come inside?" to a laugh-out-loud shot of bodily fluids post-romp, the sex within X is smutty, primal, and silly— yet handled respectfully and not overtly gratuitous. West knows when to cut away and let imaginations wander. X contains the lusty heat of what gets everyone killed in the Friday the 13th movies yet depicts it as way hotter, more interesting, and less misogynistic, allowing the women to have more agency. The characters make the solid point that their porn movie simply gives people what they want, in the privacy of their own homes, because getting off is a basic human need (for many.) If only real-life sex could always be this purely fun and uncomplicated.
And then West peels back that other, more poignant shade to sex and our relationships with it, which is what makes X so refreshing. It balances the complicated, emotional, insecure, and humbling side of physical intimacy (or lack thereof) that many of us have or will experience at some point in our lives. In that same group conversation scene, someone concludes that "we can't help who we're attracted to," which is painfully accurate and goes back to those primal instincts. But, with that notion comes the realization that sex, and how each individual uses it to connect with others, is something we'll never fully figure out or reach complete agreement upon.
Some of us can dissociate and live entirely in the heat of the moment. Others have it because they're hoping it'll lead to love. Some people want it kinkier; others want it "vanilla." Some of us are self-conscious and overthink every move, every unflattering body angle, every taste. Some people have a lot of it, while others wish they were having a lot of it.
Even if this specific handful of people, together for this common goal, seem to agree that sex is just sex to them, X subtly depicts how unique each character's relationship is to it and how they each view (and use) it to their advantage. Maxine uses her sex appeal as a portal to fame— her riding skills are unparalleled and her eye contact with the camera is hypnotizing, but is she genuinely enjoying herself or is she just skilled at appealing to the camera…or both? Hopefully both. Bobby-Lynne is similar. She refers to Jackson as her "sometimes" boyfriend and keeps it vague whether or not she's genuinely getting off or if she's just a great actress, faking it. She's also just straight-up "horny," though. Her ability to remain in total control is enviable. Wayne doesn't directly participate himself, but he's fine with watching girlfriend Maxine participate if it will make him some cash. Jackson can confidently swing his you-know-what around and is a total professional. Lorraine is tired of holding back and missing out and just wants to feel sexy. RJ's a big and bad porn auteur…until his insecurities overcome him. Sure, we all laughed in the theater at his hypocrisy and his chain-balling of his girl, but his hypersensitivity to seeing someone he cares about doing it with somebody else is relatable. Cucking isn't for everybody.
With the idea that nobody can help where their attraction may land, also comes the hard truth that monogamy isn't for everyone either. Indeed, sometimes we will find ourselves getting different things from different partners. And perhaps (for some) not one singular person will satisfy all of those needs. Some partners will satiate that hot, passionate side, while others are going to satiate those warm, fuzzy, familial feelings. And X doesn't shy away from suggesting how difficult it can be to find both— and learning how to accept those desires for more than one partner. Couples Maxine and Wayne, and Bobby-Lynne and Jackson are secure and evolved enough to separate lust from love. In contrast, Lorraine and RJ are grappling with more emotional turmoil in their relationship. The Waynes of the world can separate business from actual pleasure, while the RJs are more emotional about sex. It's all a matter of how your personal mileage varies.
And then there's Pearl. Ti West could've written Pearl as an easily offended old-head whose religious values made her a total puritan with a metaphorical stick up her rear. Instead, Howard is fearful of Pearl catching the young and beautiful in the act— not because she'll be offended as a person of her age might be in a lesser movie— but because he knows how jealous (and turned on) she will be. In addition to all its other cool approaches, X is a horny hagsploitation movie. What Pearl sees in Maxine and what she envies in ("You know I don't like blondes") Bobby-Lynne is a cold, bitter reminder of her fleeted youth, beauty, and nookie she isn't having. As my older friend likes to say, "Use it or lose it." We should all be so lucky to still have the urge at that age.
These character differences culminate with the showdown between RJ and Pearl. At this point, RJ has just filmed multiple scenes of the cast having sex. Yet, he is completely put off by the elderly-bodied Pearl's seduction attempts in her nightgown. Pearl stabs and stabs RJ and, (if memory serves correctly) slathers his blood all over herself. In the moment, her dancing is sensual. Even if she hasn't gotten exactly what she wanted yet, she's transformed. And just like that, the non-penetrated femme becomes the penetrator, throwing Carol J. Clover's Men, Women, And Chainsaws academic teachings right out the window.
(Photo Courtesy of A24)
When Pearl finally gets her romp with Howard, West treats the geriatric sex scene with respect, yet without any drop of boring monotony— nor is it played for mockery's sake, either. The moments leading up to it are tender and sweet. It's intended to rival any romp between younger, more able-bodied folks, including some "F*ck me, Howard!" thrown in for good measure.
Almost everybody in the film gets to have a little dirty fun before they die. But it is its rare stance on sex positivity as a slasher movie that makes X special…even if nearly everybody, including the villains, ultimately dies after either having or profiting off sex. The dialogues it has opened for depictions of sex in horror and how it connects to the viewer personally is something to inspire excitement. Will sex make a comeback in horror? Will it be as equally poignant and fun as it is here? We've been through enough lately, consumed enough trauma horror, and deserve to have some fun again. Life is short, and someday we're gonna be too old to f*ck.
X is available on Blu-ray May 24th and includes The X Factor featurette, The Farmer's Daughters, and extended scenes! If you're hungry for more, check out our exclusive Convo X Fango with Ti West and cast, and take a look at this extensive behind-the-scenes look at the FX teams transforming Mia Goth into Pearl, bringing the gore, and more!