Memento Mori: X (Ti West, 2022) / Pearl (Ti West, 2022)

She danced at the Southern Hotel.

Memento Mori: X (Ti West, 2022) / Pearl (Ti West, 2022)

I never wrote about Ti West’s X because I could never figure out how to feel about it. On a technical level, it’s a great slasher. It's funny, it's scary, it has memorable performances, it has an original conceit, every single kill is executed in a surprising and effective way. The premise — a group of 1970s porn stars gets picked off one-by-one by crazed and elderly slashers — makes clever use of the fact that 70s gore and 70s porn tended to have roughly the same aesthetic, and that what made (say) Texas Chainsaw Massacre so unsettling was precisely the fact that it looked like a real recording of people doing unspeakable things.

Yet X keeps insisting it's more than "just" a slasher movie. West never stops throwing winks to the audience or inviting them to notice how smart he is. The messaging about sex-positivity and the evils of fundamentalist Christianity is really on-the-nose, and yet you get the sense West finds it original. The last line is a fourth-wall-shattering comment about how campy and wild the movie was -- but if West could just commit to landing the plane, the audience would be talking about that on their own.

The reason people keep making slashers is that the genre is already smart, and already funny, and already has deep thoughts about age and sex and gender and power baked into it. Barbarian, for instance, was a big message movie that never felt like one; it focused on the scares, and the message came on its own. Making a great slasher is an achievement. Not everyone can do it. Ti West can do it, but insisting that your slasher is Art, Actually gives the sense that you're condescending to your own genre, which is gross.

I don’t have the same reservations about Pearl. Not because it’s not campy — it is, and gleefully so — but because it has a real sense of terror and pity. X kept its characters shallow, more types than people, because their only real function was to die. Pearl has a sadness that comes from knowing that someone will live for a long, long time.

To fill you in on the basic premise: In X, Mia Goth portrayed both a young hottie and (under lots of makeup) a sinister old woman who kills young hotties. Pearl is a prequel; it’s the story of that old woman, back when she was a young woman who still looked like Mia Goth.

We know how that woman’s life wound up. We know that she wound up old, and sad, and sexually starved, and we also know that she wound up an axe murderer. No-one sets out in life thinking “I am going to be an axe murderer,” the same way no-one sets out thinking “I am going to be sad.” But that’s what some people wind up being.

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