HMAXXXINE promo poster
MAXXXINE
(2024,US)

2 and half stars  
directed by: Ti West
starring: Mia Goth, Elizabeth Debicki, Moses Sumney, Michelle Monaghan, Bobby Cannavale, Halsey, Lily Collins, Giancarlo Esposito, Kevin Bacon

choice dialogue:

"The whole world's gonna know my name."

- Cheeky Starlet Bravado!

slash with panache?

[review by Joseph Henson]

   MAXXXINE
  Mia Goth returns in Ti West's neon-soaked close to his slasher trilogy with MAXXXINE.

About halfway through Ti West's closing chapter of the Mia Goth trilogy, my heart began to sink a little as I came to a realization: I don't particularly care for Maxine as a character, and West's films have worked as well as they have up until now for a wide array of other factors, ironically one of which IS Mia Goth. But as I became enraptured with West's journey through mid-80s Los Angeles, recreated splendidly in all of its Pop-Punk glow, I found myself wanting to switch tour guides.

When we last saw Maxine (Mia Goth), she became the lone survivor of a porn shoot massacre in a rural Texas town, perpetrated by her elder doppleganger, Pearl (Mia Goth, again), in Ti West's X (2022). Six years have passed, and Maxine is now working and living the seedy life of a would-be starlet in the pornographic underworld while trying to claw her way into mainstream fame. She gets her big chance one day after she successfully auditions for a sequel to a popular horror film: THE PURITAN II (we get to see a mock VHS cover of THE PURITAN in a VHS-centric sequence and it is to die for, FYI). Meanwhile, evidence of Maxine's involvement in the porn shoot massacre begins to surface, along with a shifty private investigator (Kevin Bacon), tasked by a mysterious benefactor with locating Maxine who, unpeturbed, meets with the director of THE PURITAN II, Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki), who is looking to carve a niche in the genre for herself and other like-minded industry females, and notices something in Maxine beyond her porn starlet past. She has a few choice words and stern warnings for Maxine to help her stay focused as a newcomer, which Maxine takes to heart in eliminating the obstacles within her personal space. All in a day's work for a porn starlet by morning, movie star by day, and avenging angel by night. But eerie news reports of The Night Stalker are striking fear into the hearts of many Los Angelinos, and several individuals within Maxine's orbit soon find themselves falling victim to someone clad in black leather gloves and brandishing a big blade.

   MAXXXINE
  No stranger to the slasher movie, Kevin Bacon appears as a shifty private investigator in MAXXXINE.

To start, MAXXXINE looks phenomenal. West and company have gone to great lengths to recreate that Reagan-era Apple Pie insincerity masked with video revolution rebellion with little to no anachronistic bugaboos to jar you back to reality. Through Maxine, the character, we get strides through the pornographic underworld and into the faux golden glow of the mainstream, and that's all well and good until she takes Elizabeth's words to heart and we realize Maxine is taking us somewhere not quite as interesting, and she herself is not quite the tour guide we wanted. Using the character of Pearl and her own movie, PEARL (2022), as a reference, what we saw with her was a real progression. It was to an inevitable conclusion considering it was a prequel, but a progression none the less, but with Maxine, she begins and ends X and MAXXXINE right where she started: a wide-eyed, naive, hopeful, but ruthless individual with tunnel vision. She doesn't change, she doesn't learn anything, she remains static and more or less coasts through interesting worlds being, frankly, as uninteresting as possible. That's not a knock on Mia Goth who remains consistently eXXXcellent (sorry, I had to eventually) throughout the trilogy. It's just her character who is frankly one note. From memory, I recall X having a slathering of characters who showcased much more contrast: maybe following one of them would have been preferable (despite all being living-impaired, but hey, it's a horror movie after all). I don't know. It's all personal opinion, but at the end of the trilogy, I more or less felt lost in a visually arresting world dereft of much humanity to center it all.

But back to the good and what earns this movie its rating: as previously mentioned, those looking to be aesthetically-pleased will be awash in one of the best time-period recreations put to film, from the hair, to the clothes, to the slapping soundtrack (Laura Branigan, RATT, ZZ Top, Animotion, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, New Order, to name a handful) with all of that Hollywood vernacular infused into the script to tie it all together. West and company have a lot of fun aping Brian De Palma with split screen shots used to tie disparate sequences together, with the overall style (and the plot itself) feeling much like De Palma's BODY DOUBLE (1984) had a meeting with ANGEL (1984) and CRUISING (1980).

   MAXXXINE
  The irrestible 80s ambiance is a major draw for Ti West's film.

When it stays focused on Maxine's involvement with the porn industry and subsequently the Hollywood machine, the film remains fairly interesting, with a lot of the visuals (including a ghoulish closing shot that I loved) making several subtle statements about both worlds being aesthetically different but morally identical. Pepper in a murderer snuffing out a small group of hangers on and you should have a solid closing chapter of a slasher movie trilogy, but as I said, Maxine remains narrowly-focused to the point that we more or less traipse right back through X and rehash many of the same beats, all because Maxine is incapable of change, and it becomes more than a tad monotonous. More so, Kevin Bacon's involvement here will either make your skin crawl or have you hoping for a fast forward button - or both. You could remove him from the picture entirely and it wouldn't make the least bit of difference, except to possibly make it more pleasant. Elsewhere, dependable actors like Giancarlo Eposito and Bobby Cannavale do what they can, but are more or less stymied by having to wait on the Maxine character to make a move, which she rarely does. As a slasher movie, X probably remains the most bodycount-focused while PEARL had the good sense to take a shopworn grindhouse approach and toss it into a technicolor blender worthy of comparisons to THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939). With MAXXXINE, I'm afraid to report that the slasher stuff is sparse, with the film turning into an action movie shootout during its limp conclusion. There is a bodycount reaching nearly twenty (I lost count), but maybe a third of it is reserved for slasher movie deaths, and I counted no less than seven deaths that arose from gunfire alone. When the killer is finally unmasked, we get an answer to a question about Maxine that no one really asked and that all three films have already answered thoroughly anyway without us even having to ask. It feels pointless.

Overall, MAXXXINE looks the part but doesn't quite play the part. It's never boring, but it's never all that interesting, either. On its own merits, two and a half stars seems fair for all of the good that it does. Looking at Ti West's films as a trilogy, I'm of the PEARL > X > MAXXXINE opinion. X gave us the grisly bodycount, PEARL gave us the color and the humanity, and MAXXXINE gives us not enough of either.

 

BODYCOUNT  bodycount!   female: ? / male: ?

 

 

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