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MaXXXine (18)

Director: Ti West
Screenplay: Ti West

Starring: Charley Rowan McCain, Mia Goth, Simon Prast

Running time: 103 minutes

Cinema release

Review: David Stephens

2022’s X was undoubtedly the little horror that could. Coming from Ti West, the unconventional slasher made a name for itself in critical terms, even in the immediate aftermath of the Covid doldrums. The follow-up to that was a collaboration between actress Mia Goth and West, who saw a chance to expand the backstory of the OAP serial killer into something truly unique… especially as the filmmaker and actress were metaphorically twiddling their thumbs during production lockdowns. And so there was Pearl, a Wizard of Oz technicolour fever dream that saw the titular character gradually turn into a twisted killer through personal circumstances and bad choices. All of this, almost accidentally, set up an X trilogy with Maxxxine being announced pretty quickly and with Goth as a producer. Being as X and Pearl were so well received by the genre community and critics alike, this was inevitably a project that became very much anticipated. So if X was a sleazy 70s exploitation flick, Pearl was a WWI warped wonderland, Maxxxine would be something else. With a cast jam-packed of familiar faces and (of course) headed up by Goth, it’s time for a kick up the 80s.


It's 1985, 6 years after “The Texas Porn Star Massacre” (a headline shown in the actual film) and Maxine Minx (Goth) is indeed working in Hollywood. However, it’s as a seasoned adult film star rather than a celebrity superstar actress. Still chain-smoking and regularly shoving half a ton of coke up her nostrils at every opportunity, she keeps living by the mantra that “I will not accept a life that I do not deserve”. Better things seem to be on the horizon when she auditions for a major role in “The Puritan II”, a sequel to a successful period horror. The director (Elizabeth Debicki playing Elizabeth Bender) sees a strong kindred spirit in Maxine and is impressed by her nascent talent, so takes a chance on hiring her. Meanwhile, girls in Hollywood are being killed by a serial murderer, suspected to be the infamous “Night Stalker”. Not only that but Maxine is being stalked by a low-life detective (Kevin Bacon as John Labat) who knows about her involvement in the “X” killings. So is Maxine Minx going to get her star on the street or her heart on a gurney?


Cutting straight to the chase. Is Maxxxine the fantastic trilogy closer that we all hoped for? In short, no. Is it as good or better than X or Pearl? Again, no. That’s not to say that it isn’t a good film and well worth your time. It’s just that when compared to those two cinematic experiences, the third film just doesn’t reach the same heights. It’s less focused and not as impactful as those movies. Arguably, Maxine also feels less of a charismatic personality than Pearl does and just doesn’t hold the attention or have the consistency of that character. That’s no reflection on Goth’s performance, just a comment on the character herself.

Despite some brilliant scenes (more on those shortly), Goth never has a “moment” to equal the ones in X or Pearl. There’s nothing to match the superb monologue in the latter film or the inherent craziness, and there are no final girl moments to match those in X. The only sequence that comes close to those is the screen test, where Goth flips between emotions in a staggeringly accomplished fashion.


Maxine herself seems to dip frequently (and inconsistently) between being a badass and then a stereotypical victim. It’s hard to equate the version of her that belittles a would-be rapist in an eye-watering fashion and smacks the crap out of an antagonist with car keys, to the one that cowers in the Bates Motel and then gets tied screaming to a tree. The message is (given in exposition by Debicki’s strong-willed filmmaker and an onscreen quote by classic actress Bette Davis) that in order to become a “star” you have to become something of a monster, someone who is ruthless. It’s an interesting perspective and is seemingly supported by Maxine herself when she becomes complicit in cold-blooded murder at one point. There’s also a telling moment where a female detective (played by Michelle Monaghan) literally begs her to help and prevent the murder of a future victim. “Perhaps she should help herself. I had to.”, she responds in an icy fashion. Beyond that though, it’s not really expanded upon, and the lead character is mostly given to reacting to a situation as it’s thrown in her face rather than driving events.


Goth is as good as expected but gets few chances to really stretch her acting muscles as she did previously. The rest of the fine cast, with the exception of Debicki and Bacon, get short shrift in the story with each one of them betting barely a handful of lines. Sophie Thatcher doesn’t even get a character name! (“FX Artist”). Debicki though is particularly good as the English rose director who has a heart of steel and a point to prove, and Bacon has some fun as the slimy P.I. Although, she’s barely in it, Lily Collins makes an impression as an affable Yorkshire (!?!) scream-queen with a killer scream-face. She should think about doing more genre stuff. Other actors such as Monaghan, Halsey, Giancarlo Esposito, and Larry Fessenden are totally wasted in bit parts. They were probably itching to work with West, but with such an ensemble and narrative, they were never going to get a part in the spotlight.


That might sound like the whole thing is fraught with negative aspects, but Maxxxine is still superior stuff to many other releases this year, albeit reaching a lower benchmark than expected. Critics have trotted out the old “style over substance” chestnut, complaining that it’s an 80s emulator rather than being a cohesive horror or working as story closure. There is some validity to that, but there are also some bloody great sequences as well. Take the moment Maxine is having her head plaster-cast, making her look like a grotesque version of aged Pearl, causing her to panic attack and hallucinate. There’s the superb murder scene where a black-gloved killer slashes away at a victim as it mirrors the lines of a script that the lead character is reading … all to a pounding prog-rock track. Bate’s motel is shoehorned in there in a great way, as is a love of the era, with stereotypes such as big hair, karate classes, peep shows, 42nd Street aesthetics, and so on. Not to mention a to-die-for 80s soundtrack with John Parr, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and far too many others to mention. Speaking of John Parr, best use of “St Elmo’s Fire” ever in a movie!


If there had been more sequences like those described above, then this would have easily scored a higher rating and been on “Parr” (heh) with the previous X films. As it is, it feels more like Chinatown (especially with Bacon’s nose injury) rather than a homage to Italian Giallo or 80s shockers. The last act is a bit silly and melodramatic, coming off like a US TV movie from that decade, rather than a triumphant send-off and that’s a bit of shame. If X and Pearl ended with a punch to the gut, then this is more of a shoulder shrug, albeit with a cracking head explosion somewhere in there. West does put some neat Easter Eggs in the footage though. Along with the countless dialogue callbacks, there is a close-up of a Hollywood Star on the sidewalk that links all three films together again (Hint: Clips of “The Great Alligator” aren’t in there for nothing). And if you were wondering what happened to the footage from “The Farmer’s Daughters”…


To bring it all to a summary. Would we recommend Maxxxine? Well, yes, we would. As a standalone movie, there are some great moments, all with West’s trademark visual flourishes and eye for bloody details. Goth still shines, along with Debicki and Bacon (sounds like a kid’s meal at a chain restaurant). It’s just not the 4-star-plus experience that the previous X films were, which feels disappointing, especially given how much hype and expectation has been piled onto it. Hopefully, it’ll still make an impact at the theatres and altogether we still have a trilogy to cherish from the 2020s.

It’s not that the film is bad, it’s just not as great as the other “X” movies. There’s a keen sense of style and some knock-out sequences, but it’s less structured and not as hard-hitting as its predecessors. More noir than horror, it’s an enjoyable experience, but we were expecting more from the trilogy closer. Max needed to be a bit madder.
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