The Spool / Movies
MaXXXine shoots for stardom but falls scarily short
Ti West's conclusion to the Mia Goth-starring horror trilogy dives too far into pastiche, and loses what made the first two films so intriguing.
SimilarBad Education (2004), Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), Beverly Hills Cop III (1994), F9 (2021), Fargo (1996), Freaks (1932), Godzilla Raids Again (1955), Jaws: The Revenge (1987), Léon: The Professional (1994), Memento (2000), Mississippi Burning (1988) Once Upon a Time in America (1984), Primal Fear (1996) Rope (1948), Secret Window (2004), Silent Hill (2006), Strange Days (1995), Swimming Pool (2003), Taxi Driver (1976), The 39 Steps (1935), The Big Lebowski (1998), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), The Usual Suspects (1995),
Watch afterA Quiet Place (2018), Poor Things (2023),
StarringGiancarlo Esposito,
MPAA RatingR
StudioA24
4.0
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It’s disappointing and fitting that director Ti West’s MaXXXine is undone by its sheer ambition. Throughout West’s licentious slasher series, his films have always featured titular heroines whose dreams were never commensurate with the limitations of their present circumstances (cue Mia Goth’s iconic “Please, I’m a star!” diatribe in 2022’s Pearl). In a similar vein, MaXXXine follows Maxine Minx (played once again by a show-stopping Goth) as she struggles to make a name for herself in Hollywood despite a less-than-savory past (for starters, she’s the sole survivor of a brutal massacre, as depicted in the first film of the series, X).

Like its titular protagonist, MaXXXine has high ambitions, attempting to weave in commentary about the dignity of sex work, the glamor and exploitation of Hollywood, the soul-crushing dogmas of conservative Christianity, and the pitfalls of fame all while delivering bloody genre thrills. It’s an admirable attempt, but, unfortunately, that desire to cover so much thematic ground does a disservice to the film as a whole, ultimately rendering MaXXXine a sizzle reel of iconic 1980s set pieces in a desperate search for a more compelling story to thread them together. 

Taking place in 1985 and six(xx) years after X, the film follows Maxine as she carves a successful name for herself in the pornographic film industry. Still, she’s convinced that she’s meant for greater things, hoping to make the leap into non-stag films. She gets her big break when she lands the lead role in the horror film The Puritan II, but cannot rest on the laurels of her inchoate movie career. A serial killer known as the Night Stalker has been brutally murdering young LA hopefuls, and after three of the victims have a direct connection to Maxine, she realizes that her past has caught up with her. In between her blossoming movie career, she strives to stop the Night Stalker, lest her dreams are thwarted.

MaXXXine (A24) Ti West Mia Goth Review
MaXXXine (A24)

It’s evident that West and his team meticulously researched the 1980s period MaXXXine is set in and were eager to let loose in recreating iconic set pieces. Whereas X and Pearl both took place mainly in a Texas farmhouse, in the 1980s, LA was rife with exploration. West’s camera frantically shifts between various landmarks and period-accurate outfits to a dizzying effect; this perspective can be seen as an extension of the liberation Maxine herself feels: she finally has a chance to achieve her dream of being famous, and her only limit is what she can see and imagine; she’s hungry to have it all.

Indeed, Goth remains the best part of these films and is a reliable delight as she embodies a ruthlessness rooted in desperation. Goth knows to play Maxine with all the confidence of Nellie LaRoy from Babylon (LaRoy’s line comes to mind: “You don’t become a star … You either are one or you ain’t”) while also keeping a ferocity just barely caged behind her eyes. It is in this character that Goth and West’s creative partnership is in lockstep. Even the way Goth walks radiates a level of confidence that’s rooted in a deeper darkness. When we first meet Maxine in the film, all we hear is her heels hitting the floor as she walks to her audition for The Puritan II. She treats her commute as if she’s a model on a runaway, and West cleverly shoots the scene as such. It’s easy to play confidence as arrogance, but Goth laces an existentialism to this ambition. One can read Maxine’s assured poise as a clarity gifted from being so proximate to death in the previous film. 

While West rightly keeps the focus on Maxine, it’s often at the cost of the other characters that populate this world. Michelle Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale are saddled with thankless roles as police detectives who fail to stop the grisly Night Stalker murders before they happen. Kevin Bacon and Elizabeth Debecki can inject a little more personality into their roles as they play a private investigator and movie director, respectively. Bacon is particularly entertaining as his ostentatious nonchalance and sleaze clash with Maxine’s street smarts. Giancarlo Esposito, Lily Collins, and Halsey play their minimal roles well enough but aren’t given much to do beyond providing exposition or embodying one-note caricatures to foil Maxine’s personality. At some points, the film rests on the laurels of reenactment with its setpieces, leading to forced and awkward dialogue that feels a bit too self-congratulatory. In one sequence, when Debicki’s Director character, Elizabeth Bender, brings Maxine to the iconic Bates Motel set on a studio lot, Bender says, “Do you know where we are? This is where they shot Psycho.” 

MaXXXine (A24) Ti West Mia Goth Review
MaXXXine (A24)

West explores many interesting ideas in MaXXXine, but, unfortunately, the film frequently drops one thread in favor of another. In her audition for The Puritan II, after initially being critiqued for having starred in pornographic films, Maxine silences any doubt of her acting abilities by delivering a haunting monologue from the script. The crew thanks her for her time and then, as a final note, asks her to remove her top “so we can see your breasts.” It’s a bit of dark humor that underscores that those who look down on stag films aren’t beneath objectifying the bodies of others for their own amusement. Yet rather than explore this hypocrisy further, the climax switches gears and becomes a larger critique about the dangers of censorship and of when conservative religion and politics mix; these are all fascinating ideas, but they never quite gel together in ways that are compelling and that don’t sound preachy. 

MaXXXine embodies the fears and worries of its central star: While it’s thrilling, violent, and determined, it always feels like it’s reaching beyond what it actually is. What the film gains in a fresh setting apart from the farm, it loses in its narrative and thematic scope. 

MaXXXine is currently playing in theaters.

MaXXXine Trailer:

SimilarBad Education (2004), Beverly Hills Cop (1984), Beverly Hills Cop II (1987), Beverly Hills Cop III (1994), F9 (2021), Fargo (1996), Freaks (1932), Godzilla Raids Again (1955), Jaws: The Revenge (1987), Léon: The Professional (1994), Memento (2000), Mississippi Burning (1988) Once Upon a Time in America (1984), Primal Fear (1996) Rope (1948), Secret Window (2004), Silent Hill (2006), Strange Days (1995), Swimming Pool (2003), Taxi Driver (1976), The 39 Steps (1935), The Big Lebowski (1998), The Silence of the Lambs (1991), The Usual Suspects (1995),
Watch afterA Quiet Place (2018), Poor Things (2023),
StarringGiancarlo Esposito,
MPAA RatingR
StudioA24