Physical Address

304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124

'MaXXXine' Has '80s Horror Vibes but Lacks Depth

‘MaXXXine’ Has ’80s Horror Vibes but Lacks Depth

Say hello to Maxine Minx (Mia Goth), the (anti)heroine of Ti West’s “MaXXXine,” the third installment in his “X” trilogy. Last we saw Maxine, she was fleeing a massacre in Texas, leaving a trail of bloody carnage behind her. Fast forward six years to 1985 Los Angeles, and Maxine, now a determined porn starlet and peep show performer, is on a relentless quest to become a star of the silver screen, no matter the cost.

Maxine is unstoppable in her pursuit of stardom when she lands her first mainstream film role in a horror sequel titled “The Puritan II.” Neither butchered friends, the Night Stalker, pesky LAPD detectives, nor an annoying private eye (Kevin Bacon) can deter her. Maxine is adamant that she deserves the life of a star, and she won’t settle for anything less.

As with the previous films in the trilogy, “MaXXXine” allows writer-director-editor West to play with genres. Where “X” was a grimy ‘70s slasher, and the prequel “Pearl” was a Technicolor musical with axe murdering, “MaXXXine” adopts the skin of a sexy, sleazy ‘80s erotic thriller. However, this is all merely aesthetic: there’s no real eroticism or thrills—just an elaborate costume.

All the aesthetic elements are there: an excellent soundtrack, meticulous production and costume design capturing ‘80s Hollywood, and stylistic nods to giallo films and the works of Brian De Palma. But West doesn’t employ these references with any meaningful intent, offering far too many. The film tries to be clever but ends up feeling confusing and overly self-conscious.

West bombards the audience with nods to cinematic history—a Buster Keaton impersonator threatens Maxine, she stubs out a cigarette on Theda Bara’s Walk of Fame star, and Bacon, dressed like a character from “Chinatown,” chases her into the “Psycho” house set. But these references don’t amount to anything meaningful; they feel like annoying nudges. When Maxine stomps on Buster’s genitalia, it becomes evident it’s all just a cheap joke, a cinematic pun for movie nerds, devoid of suspense or tension.

As for the murder mystery element, it falls flat. The Night Stalker murders play in the background as mere news items. Maxine’s friends turn up dead, marked with satanic symbols, but their deaths are just obstacles on her path to stardom. It’s unclear why she resents the LAPD detectives (Michelle Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale), except that they delay her first day on the “The Puritan II” set. There, director Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki) gives Maxine lengthy but hollow monologues about art and industry.

Like the verbose speeches, “MaXXXine” is packed with familiar quotes, images, and truisms that hint at “Hollywood commentary,” but there’s no real substance. West manages to say nothing concrete and is unwilling to critique his leading lady, thus weakening her character. Ruthlessly ambitious Maxine is more intriguing as the villain of the story rather than the heroine. West gestures toward her true nature with an opening quote from Bette Davis: “in this business, until you’re known as a monster, you’re not a star,” but he keeps wavering, denying her any real ferocity.

Mia Goth, however, fully understands Maxine, just as she understood Pearl, playing the role with a ferocious, hard-scrabbling determination. When Maxine is bad, Goth is exceptionally good, but West never allows her to truly unleash. Goth holds “MaXXXine” together with her sheer charisma, navigating the bumpy plot, her underwritten character, and the predictable, lackluster kills that occur with clockwork precision.

This is disappointing, as “X” was an intriguing exploration of self-actualization through mediated images, a film rooted in a specific genre that cleverly discussed the power of self-making through filmmaking. It was intelligent and witty, with considerable promise. This was extended on a character level in “Pearl” and could have been further developed in “MaXXXine” through themes of voyeuristic surveillance in erotic thrillers. Instead, it all ends up hopelessly muddled.

Ultimately, “MaXXXine” is much like the Warner Bros. backlot set she runs through. It’s a beautiful facade that’s empty behind the walls—all surface, full of meaningless symbols, and lacking any real substance.

Source: Tribune Content Agency, LLC