The HoloFiles

REVIEW: MaXXXine

By George & Josh Bate

Maxxxine review

In 2022, filmmaker Ti West kicked off a horror trilogy no one saw coming. X arrived on the scene in March 2022 and immediately gripped audiences. Cleverly subverting expectations of the slasher genre, while also firmly playing within the rules set forth by the likes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Halloween, X was an excellent slasher film. Its attention to themes of aging and the pursuit of stardom also made it have more to say than the average slasher, which helped elevate the otherwise fairly conventional film. Then, unexpectedly, Ti West followed up X with a surprise prequel – Pearl. Hitting theaters just six months after its predecessor, Pearl: An X-traordinary Origin Story followed a younger version of the old woman Pearl from X. Not only was Pearl more novel than its predecessor, but it also made X a better movie upon rewatch. Both X and Pearl took the world by storm and have been the subject of much discussion (and memes) over the past two years. Now, Ti West concludes his X trilogy with the highly anticipated MaXXXine.

MaXXXine takes place six years after the events of X. Maxine Minx (once again played by Mia Goth) has moved from Houston to Los Angeles to pursue a career in the film industry. Still plagued by the trauma of what happened to her and her friends at the hands of Pearl and her husband Howard, Maxine tries to move on and become the star she feels she deserves to be. But just as she finally breaks out of the adult film industry and lands a role in a horror movie, a mysterious killer stalks the shady streets of L.A. and threatens to reveal the secrets of her violent past. 

As far as horror film trilogies go, Ti West’s is surely one of the more unconventional. The first installment plays like a largely by-the-books slasher film, albeit with a bit more to say. The second installment, meanwhile, is an origin story for the first film’s villain taking place at the same location in Houston. Now, the third installment chronologically follows the first film and continues the story of a lead character absent from the second film. There are two elements that unites these three narratively dissimilar films into a cohesive series: 1) all three films focus on different facets of the pursuit of fandom (to varying degrees of success, as we’ll discuss) and 2) each film offers a decidedly different take on the slasher genre. With these two shared elements, the three films of Ti West’s trilogy work in unison, although MaXXXine unfortunately falls far short of the brilliance of its predecessors.

Maxxxine review

MaXXXine opens up with an iconic quote from Bette Davis: “Until you’re known in my profession as a monster, you’re not a star.” On the surface, this quote fits the final chapter of West’s trilogy perfectly. The first two films deftly explored the moral implications of relentless pursuits of fame, the desperation that comes with such a singular focus, and the difficulties coping with the loss of beauty and sexuality over time. Davis’ quote is consistent with these themes, teasing that MaXXXine will depict how its titular character’s desire for fame turns her into a monster, much like it did Pearl. Disappointingly, however, this opening quote teases a film far more interesting and consistent with the themes of the first two installments than what MaXXXine ultimately ends up being.

At the heart of this issue is the plot of MaXXXine. Overstuffed with far too many characters and moving parts, the narrative lacks the focus and intimacy that came with X and Pearl. Tracking Maxine’s rising career in Hollywood is one thing, but also orienting to her variety of new friends, the Night Stalker lingering in the background, another mysterious killer committing murders, two police officers investigating Maxine, and the ins and outs of the horror film Maxine is working on becomes overwhelming and takes away from attention on the lead character.

With so many moving parts, MaXXXine comes across as a film with so many great ideas, all executed with mediocre execution. The aforementioned plot elements would likely make for a great mini-series, but, in an 1 hour 44 minute movie, things feel rushed and half-baked. The movie always feels like it is just getting started, waiting for the plot to narrow and become more focused. Although, this focus never really arrives.

If the individual pieces of MaXXXine’s narrative are assessed in isolation of one another, unfortunately, things don’t get much better. One of the most prominent pieces of this narrative involves Maxine’s work on The Puritan II, a horror sequel directed by Elizabeth Bender (played by Elizabeth Debicki). Debicki is an excellent actress, but delivers a performance that feels misplaced in MaXXXine. Amplifying this issue is a dullness and mundanity to Maxine’s big break in Hollywood, something that should come with a level of grandness. The conversations Maxine and her director Elizabeth exchange throughout the film are repetitive and so surface-level that they seem to be taken from countless other films depicting the making of movies. 

Another of the most prominent pieces of this narrative involves Kevin Bacon’s character John Labat, a private investigator hired by an unknown individual. Much of MaXXXine is spent showing Labat taunt Maxine for her past (a past in which, by the way, she was a survivor of trauma, rather than a perpetrator), chase her around L.A., and confusingly do the bidding of the aforementioned unknown individual. The role of Labat is never made that clear, while the motivations of the unknown individual (who is also committing a murder spree throughout the city) are convoluted and silly when revealed in the film’s final act.

And it is in this final act, especially the film’s final 10-15 minutes, that MaXXXine most greatly errs. To explain this fully would be to divulge spoilers, but it can be said that the film concludes on an ill-fitting note, one that feels tonally and narratively inconsistent with the themes of X and Pearl. In turn, this means that MaXXXine reaches a culmination that feels undeserved, an irony given Maxine’s famous quote, “I will not accept a life I do not deserve.”

Maxxxine review

Standing out amidst these disappointing attributes is the film’s backdrop of seedy 1980s Hollywood. Director Ti West captures the feeling of the decade and the setting perfectly, leaning into the likes of Brian de Palma’s Body Double in portraying the shady underbelly of L.A. The setting plays such a vital role that it feels like a character unto itself. Maxine is not only fighting off cops, a movie director, and a masked killer, but she is also coming up against the juggernaut that is L.A., a city is depicted as consuming and transforming its inhabitants. In large part due to its depiction of the city, MaXXXine proves to be consistently engaging and entertaining throughout, even when the plot stumbles.

As much as MaXXXine (and this trilogy) is the product of Ti West, it is also the product of star Mia Goth. Across three films, Goth delivers extraordinary (or, should we say, X-traordinary) performances that firmly position her work among other iconic horror movie performances. Goth is magnetic in this latest film, producing a performance completely different from that of Pearl and a performance evolved from her work in X. MaXXXine is most interesting when Goth is on screen and the focus of proceedings. Goth carries much of the film, especially in a jumbled middle act and a silly third act, and, as such, is essential to what works well in the film. 

VERDICT: 6/10

Lacking the refinement of X and the novelty of Pearl, MaXXXine concludes Ti West’s horror trilogy on a disappointing note. A jumbled plot with far too many characters and moving parts convolutes more than it engages and culminates in a confusing third act, topped off with an ending that is frustratingly inconsistent with the themes of X and Pearl. The film still unfolds as an odyssey on the pursuit of stardom and fame, but one far less nuanced and far more conventional than the preceding two films. Elevating MaXXXine, however, is yet another stellar turn from Mia Goth, who delivers performances across these three films that are among the best ever in the horror genre. Similarly engaging is the seedy underbelly of Hollywood and L.A. that the film explores, so much so that the city feels like a character unto itself. The technical filmmaking elements are excellent, with every shot beautifully and meticulously crafted, but MaXXXine lags behind this trilogy’s other installments with an unfocused plot and inconsistent themes. Throughout these movies, Maxine notably says, “I will not accept a life I do not deserve.” But, unfortunately, Maxine did not get the resounding end of the trilogy she deserved.

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