MAXXXINE is a Seedy Slasher with a Star Turn from Mia Goth

Ti West’s X and Pearl get a fitting (if unfocused) conclusion

After the gritty horrors of X, and the technicolor frenzy of its prequel Pearl, Ti West’s horror trilogy centered around his muse (and collaborator) Mia Goth comes to an end with Maxxxine. A capper to the feminist fueled journey of her character Maxine Minx who, six years her brush with death, has made it all the way to Hollywood as she intended. She’s made a name for herself in adult entertainment, but craves the bigger limelight of mainstream cinema. An opportunity to leave the porn and peep shows behind comes with Puritan II, a sequel to a horror hit that has entertained and sparked controversy in equal measure. After crushing her interview, she’s taken under the wing of her director Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki) to shape her into a big screen starlet. But, even as her future looks pretty rosy, her past rears its ugly head. This comes in the form of private detective John Labat (Kevin Bacon in full sleaze-ball mode) who having tracked her down, informs Maxine that his employer not only has evidence that ties her to the murders in Texas, but is looking to use it as leverage to bring her to heel. A missed rehearsal later and the stakes for Maxine become clear, deal with this threat and eliminate the distraction, or lose her shot at stardom.

Grit and determination can get you far in life. It’s an idea codified by Maxine Minx’s mantra, “I will not accept a life I do not deserve“. Despite the obsessive, occasionally shitty, and sometimes illegal acts, you can’t help but root for her. The allure of self-confidence aside, this is also someone overcoming humble beginnings as well as the lingering trauma of being the sole survivor of a massacre at a Texas farmstead. The 80s backdrop add an additional angle, planting her firmly in the man’s world that is show business. Something neatly embodied by Debicki’s character and commentary as well as the more overt power dynamics evident within the studio system, which mark it as not too dissimilar from the porn industry, at least for women. Adding to this male/female struggle is the ongoing news reports of a serial killer leaving dead women strewn across town. Drawing from the actual serial killer that stalked LA in the mid-80s killing over a dozen people, this Night Stalker adds another edge to Maxxxine‘s plot and themes.

This juxtaposition, of porn vs the studios is mirrored in terms of the glitz and glam of Hollywood contrasting with the seedy underbelly of LA. The film captures the era with authenticity and leverages it into Maxine’s story with aplomb. It also continues West’s efforts to leverage cinematic nods into the series. While X paid homage to the low-budget indie efforts that gave us The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Pearl was a throwback to the silver screen splendor of old Hollywood. With the 80s in mind, Maxxxine has a sprinkling of 80s slasher, nods to heretical fare (and other video nasties), a good dose of Italian giallo, and perhaps most strongly a brooding sense of pulpy noir. With this in mind, the film aims for a different vibe that the gore soaked visuals of it’s predecessors, even with a scene in an alleyway that will rank as one of the most squeamish and visceral in the trilogy.

X was clearly more of an ensemble picture, but Mia Goth still stood out, notably with her tackling two roles. Pearl planted her centerstage and indelibly in the mind. Maxxxine seeks to blend the two, Goth is still the key figure, but surrounded by a larger cast. Her performance is less madcap, but still impactful and tremendously nuanced. Especially in scenes where she impressively conveys both the trauma hanging over her from what occurred, as well as her conviction to push it down and push on, clawing with tooth and nail (and stiletto) to realize her dream. Bacon commits to his role with relish, while Giancarlo Esposito is glorious as Maxine’s agent Teddy. The rest of the cast feel like something of an afterthought in terms of development and integration, which is a shame as the idea of pairing Michelle Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale as a pair of 80s LAPD cops has tremendous potential. This all comes across in a broader sense with a feeling that various elements and characters in the film should converge, but they don’t. Other aspects also feel a little underdeveloped too, especially when the film barrels towards it’s reveals and wrapup. The villain of the piece and the ties Maxine’s past just isn’t as impactful as it could be, and it’s here where the knowledge that Maxxxine was written after completion of X and Pearl starts to become all the more apparent.

While the weakest of the three films, Maxxxine still showcases a filmmaker not just having a firm grasp of genre cinema, but crucially having fun while doing it. It’s worth taking a step back at the achievement here, which is the telling of an original cinematic trilogy that not only is led by a woman, but has a strong feminist backbone to it. It’s meant to be the capper for a trilogy, but there’s a feeling, and I’ll add my own hope, that we’ll have another decade feel the impact of Maxine Minx.

Maxxxine opens in theaters July 5th

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