Review | ‘X – The Mark of Death’ is a love letter to slasher movies

From the 1970s onwards, the horror subgenre known as slasher gained significant popularity and left its mark on the entertainment scene as well as a number of other public-loved forays (such as romantic comedy or science fiction). Among the main titles of the aforementioned style, we have the classics ‘Halloween’, ‘The nightmare time’ and ‘Friday 13’the revolutionary and acid ‘Panic’ and, more recently, titles such as ‘Death Gives You Congratulations’ and ‘Freaky – In the Body of a Killer’. Now, we open a new and nostalgic chapter with the ambitious ‘X – The Mark of Death’which, despite the obvious formulas brought to the big screen, poses as an amusing love letter to its predecessors and a bloody adventure in the Texas countryside.

Following trends that have been consolidating since the end of the last decade (that is, to channel efforts into narratives that are not as expected within the scope of terror and horror), the plot follows a group of young people who travel to a cabin to shoot a pornographic film. Among them, we have Maxine (Mia Goth), an aspiring actress who believes that her participation in these productions will help her achieve her dreams; that’s why she embarks on this journey alongside her boyfriend, Wayne (Martin Henderson), who is also the director and producer of the work, and accompanied by the bombshell Bobby-Lynne (Brittany Snow), from the charming Jackson Hole (Scott Mescudi) and the couple formed by Lorraine (Jenna Ortega) and RJ Nichols (Owen Campbell).

However, what promises to be just a road trip film soon turns into an endless nightmare: after all, they rent a guest house that belongs to two elderly people so they can shoot the production, but without them knowing. And as the hours pass, they realize that the strange hosts have evil plans to take them out of the picture one by one – until there is absolutely no one left.

The iteration is led by the well-known filmmaker Ti Westwhose filmography includes ‘The Demon’s House’, ‘Hotel of Death’ and ‘V/H/S’ – which means that the director is no stranger to the story he brings to life. And, considering that he is also in charge of the production and the script, the narrative is brushed with a very clear identity and with an objective and practical purpose, which makes great use of conventionalism in an original atmosphere that moves away from the mere supernatural. After all, we’re not dealing with a demonic creature that randomly hunts teenagers on a vengeance spree; we face an elderly couple who, in a crisis of hatred and envy that grows exponentially when they discover what their guests are doing, decide to take revenge for the simple fact of being rejected by their age. In other words, there is a beautiful and impactful analysis of ageism that hovers over the main plot and serves as a motto for the antagonists to collect their victims.

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West makes a point of turning the production into a love letter to the films that have influenced him since the beginning of his career – and he builds kinds of easter eggs to satisfy the public. The Jason Voorhees saga, for example, is referenced in the pseudo-idyllic lake house setting and in the architecture of the characters; the famous ‘Panic at the lake’ is also recovered in some specific sequences, including a chilling plonge absolute involving Maxine and foreshadowing one of the plot’s cruelest deaths; the color palette and sentimental characterization of the scenes embraces the inflections of ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’; in short, it is remarkable how the director signs a love letter to the slashers without being carried away by the filmic preciosity and without leaving aside welcome peculiarities that guide us from beginning to end.

While much of the technical thrust works as it should, it’s the stellar cast that steals the attention. Goth not only enchants with Maxine’s complexity, but also transmutes into the dangerous Pearl, the villain, diving headlong into a performance breathtaking; Ortega also finds significant success playing Lorraine, reiterating her status as one of the future representatives of contemporary terror (even more considering her participation in works such as ‘The Nanny: Queen of Death’ and the latest installment of the franchise ‘Panic’); and Snow, in one of the best roles of his career, makes a long-awaited comeback to the genre after the underrated ‘Would You Rather’. Each is adorned with arcs that go beyond the mere surface and contribute to the multiple twists and turns of the script.

‘X – The Mark of Death’ it is one of the biggest surprises of the year and, even with its obvious mistakes, it is established as a solid and bloody adventure that is denser than it appears. Guided by applauseable rendition, the feature-length film talks about themes like coming of age and freedom – and it’s accompanied by a subtle twist that speaks fully to the main character’s journey.

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