‘X’ (2022): Major Themes and Easter Eggs
I will not accept a life I do not deserve.
X is a 2022 slasher movie written and directed by Ti West. Inspired by iconic horror films and set in 1979, the film feels like it was made during the golden age of slasher movies. X follows a group of young people who plan to get rich and famous by making a porn movie. Wayne (Martin Henderson) is producing the film and his girlfriend, Maxine Minx (Mia Goth), is starring along with her coworker Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow). Bobby-Lynne’s “sometimes” boyfriend Jackson Hole (Kid Cudi) is the male star. RJ (Owen Campbell) is the director, and his girlfriend Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) is along to assist him. Wayne manages Maxine and Bobby-Lynne at the Bayou Burlesque strip club.
The group road-trips to rural Texas to procure a cheap location to shoot their movie. In an economically depressed county, they rent a bunkhouse on a farm from an elderly couple, Howard and Pearl. As day turns to night, the crew runs afoul of their hosts.
While filming, Ti West got the idea for a prequel based on the elderly woman’s character. He collaborated with Mia Goth (who played both Maxine Minx and the elderly Pearl) to create a backstory for the character. When A24 agreed to finance and Mia Goth agreed to reprise her role, a prequel, Pearl, was shot back-to-back with X in New Zealand. This may not even be the final film in the X franchise as West has said, “I always felt like if you’re going to make a slasher movie, you have to make a bunch of sequels.” Luckily, X is a rich film to build a universe out of.
Here are some Easter eggs, themes, and just cool details about X:
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)
One of the main references for X is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) which also starts off with the main cast road-tripping in a blue van through Texas. Like in TCM, the events of the entire film are foreshadowed during the trip in the van. In TCM this happens when the group drives by a slaughterhouse. In X, the group drives by/over a grisly scene where a cow has been hit by a truck. The van drives over the cow just as Maxine later runs over Pearl with a truck.
Wayne says, “just when you thought you escaped the slaughterhouse,” referring to the cow. The terrible things that happen to the group also happen to them after they’ve “escaped” their previous lives in search of fame and money. This is especially true for the character of Jackson Hole, a veteran who has literally escaped the slaughterhouse of Vietnam only to be murdered on a quiet Texas farm.
Youth, aging, and living life without regrets
While we don’t know much about Howard and Pearl, most of what we do know revolves around Pearl’s anger that she has aged. She is shown to be jealous of Maxine, who has the “X factor” that Pearl says she used to have when she was a young dancer. Pearl laments that she is no longer young and beautiful and doesn’t feel “special” like she once did. After meeting Maxine, the next time we see Pearl she is wearing Maxine’s trademark blue eyeshadow.
The younger characters, on the other hand, are open about wanting to live a life without regrets. Bobby-Lynne advises Lorraine not to buy into religious rhetoric about sex because “one day, we’re gonna be too old to fuck. And life’s too short if you ask me.” Afterwards, Jackson toasts to “to livin’ a life of excess. To being young and having fun until the day we die.”
This theme is exemplified by the song Bobby-Lynne and Jackson choose to play, Stevie Nicks’s “Landslide,” a song about choosing between a fear of regrets or following your dream. Later, when RJ decides to leave in the middle of the night, the song “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Blue Öyster Cult plays. Not only does this song foreshadow RJ’s imminent demise (the literal Reaper coming for him), it also fits the theme of living life without regrets while you are young. The song’s lyrics remind us that while death is assured for everyone, we have to live life anyway just like the “seasons don’t fear the Reaper.”
“Don’t Fear the Reaper” can also be heard in horror movies Halloween (1978), The Frighteners (1996), Scream (1996), Halloween (2007), and Zombieland (2009). The song was also an inspiration for Stephen King in writing The Stand and the song was used in the opening credits of the 1994 adaptation.
Friday the 13th franchise
Barns have been a fertile location for terror in slasher movies. Wayne’s trip to the barn in search of RJ (and subsequent death by pitchfork) may be a subtle nod to the Friday the 13th franchise which has several barn scenes, especially when one of the punks is killed by a pitchfork in Friday the 13th: Part 3 (1982). There’s also a death-by-pitchfork scene in Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989).
Another reference to Friday the 13th is the gas station scene, which mirrors many slasher movies where the characters stop at a gas station on their way to an isolated destination. Generally, this scene includes a “Crazy Ralph” character like the one in Friday the 13th who warns them to stay away from wherever they are going. In X, this is warning is given by the televangelist the attendant is playing on TV.
Fame / the ‘X’ factor
The film’s title, X, has the double meaning of referring to the X-rated porn film the group is making along with Maxine and Pearl’s star quality, which is referred to as their “X-factor.” Both Maxine and Pearl wish to be famous, though Pearl’s hopes to make it as a dancer are in the past. The film’s ending reveals why Maxine is anxious for the world to know her name. Her father is a prominent televangelist and has been circulating her image as his “lost” daughter.
It’s interesting that the character of Pearl must be aware of Maxine’s identity as the couple is shown to watch her father’s programs. However, during their final confrontation when Pearl tells Maxine, “You don’t think I know who you really are?” she references the porn shoot, not Maxine’s “real” identity. Pearl then warns, “We’re the same, you’ll end up just like me.” Moments later, Pearl attempts to shoot Maxine but actually succeeds in delivering a fatal blow to herself, as the rifle’s recoil causes her to break her hip. This shot also breaks the mirror in the hallway where Pearl had earlier asked Maxine to look at herself and could symbolize that the connection between the two is “shattered.”
The horror movie Psycho (1960) is explicitly mentioned in a discussion about adding Lorraine to the cast of the porn film. RJ claims that they can’t just change the plot to add another character, while Lorraine reminds him that in one of his favorite films, Psycho, this is exactly what happens when Janet Leigh’s character is suddenly (and shockingly, at the time) killed off halfway through. This conversation happens about halfway through X and indeed, the movie is about to undergo a major change from being about the production of a porn film to a straight slasher plot.
Money is the motivation for our characters to wind up on the property of two serial killers, Howard and Pearl. Throughout the film the characters take risks (like doing porn) to escape the economic hardships of the lives they would otherwise live. While it’s not explicitly stated (she says she wants to be in a good dirty movie, if they are making one) the lure money is also likely what motivates Lorraine to say she doesn’t just want to assist RJ, she wants a part in the film. Capitalism is also a major theme in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, as Leatherface’s family also lives in an economically depressed area of Texas and have been put out of work at the slaughterhouse by automation.
The Shining (1980)
Lorraine chopping down a door with an axe is a reference to the bathroom scene in The Shining (1980), where Jack Nicholson’s character does the same. The door is even a similar stile-and-rail (paneled) door. When Jack sticks his hand through the door to unlock it, he is attacked with a knife. Lorraine’s hand is mangled when she does the same.
- Eaten Alive (1976) may be a reference point for the alligator subplot as the film is about a man who runs a motel in Texas and feeds some of his guests to the crocodile he keeps out back. Notably, the man’s first kill in Eaten Alive is a sex worker, much like sex workers Maxine, Bobby-Lynne, and Jackson are shown as gator bait.
- The many scenes in the long hallway of Howard and Pearl’s home are aesthetically similar to the home used in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
- The porn film Debbie Does Dallas is mentioned by Wayne as an influence. This is an ominous reference as the film’s star, Bambi Woods, didn’t get a happy ending.
- One interesting aspect of X is that sexual elements usually reserved for female characters in horror are shared by both men and women. The character of Wayne is the focus of sexualized male nudity when he searches for RJ in the barn. RJ has a shower scene (right after a conversation about Psycho), and Kid Cudi’s character is slut-shamed by Howard right before he is murdered.
- A few references are made to the argument within the horror community between people who like gory slasher films and those who like “elevated horror” in the character of RJ, the aspiring porn director. RJ says that he plans to make their film avant-garde “like French films” because it’s a good trick to disguise the film’s low budget. When the other young people toast to having fun and living a life of excess, RJ toasts to “the power of independent cinema.” The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) was an independent film.