Inside Ti West and Mia Goth’s already filmed secret prequel to A24 slasher ‘X’

Mia Goth in Ti West's horror slasher "X"
Mia Goth stars in dual roles as adult film actress Maxine (foreground) and elderly farm owner Pearl (background) in Ti West’s horror slasher “X.”

Late Sunday night after the SXSW Film Festival world premiere of the gory new A24 slasher “X” — about a 1970s porn crew terrorized by an elderly couple on a rural Texas farm — writer-director Ti West dropped one more juicy plot twist: a follow-up to the March 18 release is already on the way.

A prequel film, “Pearl,” has already been filmed, shot in secret back to back with “X” in New Zealand during the pandemic. The surprise reveal now sets up West’s “X” and “Pearl” to launch the first horror franchise from A24, the home of art-house genre hits “The Witch,” “Hereditary” and “Midsommar.”

The ambitious feat was partly inspired by the unique demands of making “X” during COVID-19. Production on the R-rated horror picture was set to take place in early 2021 in New Zealand, where cases were low. Facing a mandatory two-week quarantine on arrival, West thought, why not use the time to pen a sequel?


“My plan was to write it there and see if I can convince A24 that we should make two movies,” he told The Times.

Ti West's "X"
Owen Campbell, Brittany Snow, Mia Goth, Scott Mescudi and Jenna Ortega arrive at a rural Texas farm to film their XXX-rated magnum opus in Ti West’s “X.”
(Christopher Moss / A24)

Opening nationwide Friday, the 1979-set “X” stars Brittany Snow, Jenna Ortega, Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi, Martin Henderson and Owen Campbell as members of an adult film crew arriving for a racy shoot on a remote farm. Stephen Ure stars as their less-than-welcoming host, and Mia Goth plays dual roles as an aspiring starlet named Maxine and Pearl, the elderly woman who develops a strange fixation with her.

Goth, known for her notable work in “Nymphomaniac,” “High Life” and “Suspiria,” is startlingly unrecognizable under prosthetics and makeup as the aged Pearl. The second film takes place decades earlier and will see Goth diving deeper into the backstory of Pearl as a young woman circa World War I.

An established genre voice behind indie horror favorites “House of the Devil,” “The Innkeepers” and “The Sacrament,” West’s most recent feature was the 2016 western thriller “In a Valley of Violence,” starring Ethan Hawke and John Travolta. Directing television for the last several years on shows including “The Exorcist,” “The Resident,” “Tales From the Loop” and “Them” gave him the innovative idea of shooting two films back to back affordably, using the same sets and crew to tell very different stories set more than half a century apart.

Brittany Snow, director Ti West, and actor Martin Henderson from "X" at the LA Times Photo Studio at SXSW
Stars Martin Henderson and Brittany Snow joined filmmaker Ti West at the world premiere “X” at the 2022 South By Southwest Film Festival.
(Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times)

“Because we were in New Zealand where it was safe, and we had an amazing crew and we were building all this stuff,” he said. “Coming from TV I thought, ‘so much is amortized, it would be a shame not to...’ But it was a long shot.”

The first call he made was to Goth, who was game to stay in New Zealand longer for a potential second film and to step into a new role as creative collaborator. In the months prior to shooting “X” they developed “Pearl” together, trading notes over FaceTime.

“We didn’t know what was going to happen,” said Goth. “We thought at the very least, if nothing comes of it, we’ll write the script and it can serve as a great backstory for Pearl and my grasp on my character.”

Mia Goth has her eyes on Lynda Carter-level fame in the 1979-set "X."
Aspiring star Maxine (Mia Goth) has her eyes on Lynda Carter-level fame in the 1979-set “X.”
(Christopher Moss / A24)

West wrote “Pearl” in quarantine, sent it off, and went back to prepping “X.” By the time filming began in February, they had a greenlight. The prequel, which is not yet dated, marks Goth’s first co-writer credit. Produced by A24, Jacob Jaffke, Harrison Kreiss and Kevin Turen, it is executive produced by Goth, Dennis Cummings, Sam Levinson, Ashley Levinson, Karina Manashil, Mescudi and Peter Phok.

“It was really just betting on, ‘Well, if we write a good script, why would they say no?’” said West. “We joked that the most A24 thing we could do with this movie is make two of them. For a studio that is consistently making challenging, progressively interesting, filmmaker-driven [projects], making two movies at the same time fell into the umbrella of what’s so cool about what they’re doing.”

The challenge of finding a fresh take on the slasher genre while also celebrating the craft of filmmaking was what enticed West to make “X” to begin with. Where “X” is steeped in the American independent cinema of the late 1970s in which it’s set, paying homage to films such as Tobe Hooper’s “Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” the prequel places its protagonist within a starkly different era and cinematic tradition.

A scene from A24's "X"
Mia Goth as Pearl in a scene from Ti West’s “X,” in theaters March 18.
(Christopher Moss)

A sneak peek shown to audiences at SXSW will also be attached to “X” in theaters, and offers a taste of what’s in store for “Pearl”: imagine the midcentury melodrama of Douglas Sirk meets the Technicolor of “Mary Poppins” in a “demented” Disney children’s movie, according to West.

“As much as ‘X’ is this love letter to cinema, in a way so is ‘Pearl’ — it’s just a very different kind of cinema. Which also sets up an idea for the third movie, which has a different vibe altogether,” he said, teasing a full “X” trilogy that he may or may not already be cooking up. “I always felt like if you’re going to make a slasher movie, you have to make a bunch of sequels.”

Read more from the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.