X, like a lot of movies these days, jumps right into it, dispensing with any credits until the end. Not only that, it opens after the events of the next hour and a half have taken place as police arrive at a lonely Texan farmhouse, discovering blood and gore galore, and an unseen artifact in the cellar that makes these hardened cops catch their breath.

We jump back 24 hours to a burlesque joint in Houston and a merry bunch of characters set off to make a dirty movie. It’s 1979, the home video market is about to explode and executive producer Wayne (Matthew Henderson) sees a way to bring porn to the masses and make a killing. He brings with him cameraman and writer RJ (Owen Campbell) who wants to make something avant-garde, mousy and quietly-spoken boom operator Lorraine (Jenna Ortega), along with the talent: Mia Goth as Maxine, Brittany Snow as Bobby-Lynne, and Scott Mescudi as inexplicably named ex-Marine Jackson Hole.

They drive out to the farmhouse from the very beginning, passing a gruesome accident involving a cow on the highway, which is owned by a very strange and very elderly couple; Howard (Stephen Ure) and Pearl (obviously Mia Goth again in a lot of prosthetics and make-up), and set up in the guesthouse. Howard and Pearl don’t know the youngsters’ intent and when Pearl, jealous of their youth, discovers them “mid-scene”, it gets her all hot and bothered and when Howard is too worried about his heart, matters take a very grim turn.

Directed and written by Ti West, it borrows an awful lot from Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which means lots of long shots of big sky and small subjects, lots of heat, lots of claustrophobia, the occasional dead animal on the road. Incidentally, the movie was shot in New Zealand, which has now pretended to be Texas and Montana in films I’ve seen this year.

Life inside the farmhouse looks almost unsustainable with the only sign of contemporary living being an ancient TV permanently tuned into an evangelism channel. Everything is grim, and dirty, and nasty, and there’s a fairly interesting metaphor bubbling away here of the porno the gang are intending to make being representative of the supposed corruptive effect adult movies in the home video market will have, with the farmhouse and the old couple representing a protesting society that’s already corrupt.

West’s direction does a decent job in the opening act of establishing the characters and the tension without appearing to try too hard to do so. Mia Goth’s Maxine sees herself as a future star, reciting positive mantras in a mirror to herself after another bump of okey-doke, but the movie doesn’t try to paint her as an innocent. She has edges, she’s been broken before, we sense, and so we want her to succeed.

Where the movie starts to fall apart for me is in the inventiveness of the kills, or rather the lack thereof. After doing a decent job of maintaining the suspension of disbelief and delivering the goods, it very quickly ebbs away as the movie drags on to its conclusion. And it’s a shame because while this was never in any danger of being the best, scariest or goriest horror I’ve ever seen, it at least brought an interesting premise to the ever-decreasing-characters style of slasher movie. At this point, the script which had been crisp and pretty precise seemed to go for a few chuckles and to me that was just utterly ill-advised.

There’s word of a prequel that was made in secret along with this movie, and supposedly if I’d hung around to the end of the opening/closing credits, I’d have gotten a sneak peak. I feel disinclined to beat myself up about this and while I may very well go along to see a bit more of this story, it’s likely to be with diminished enthusiasm and expectations.