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‘MaXXXine’ Mimics ’80s Horror Vibe but Falls Short on Substance

Say hello to Maxine Minx (Mia Goth), the protagonist of Ti West’s “MaXXXine,” the third installment in his quickly released “X” trilogy. Last we saw Maxine, she was escaping from a Texas porn star massacre, leaving a trail of bloody chaos behind. Six years have passed, and it’s now 1985 in Los Angeles. Maxine, now a hardworking porn starlet and peep show performer, is bent on rising above her tough beginnings to become a bona fide Star of the silver screen, regardless of the obstacles.

Determined as ever, Maxine scores her first mainstream film role in a horror sequel titled “The Puritan II.” Nothing will stand in her way—not butchered friends, not the Night Stalker, not persistent LAPD detectives, and certainly not an intrusive private eye (Kevin Bacon). Maxine will not settle for a life she feels unworthy of, and she demands we recognize that.

Like the previous films, “MaXXXine” allows writer-director-editor West to experiment with genre. If “X” was a gritty ‘70s slasher and prequel “Pearl” resembled a Technicolor musical with ax murders, “MaXXXine” adopts the guise of an ‘80s erotic thriller. However, this is mostly superficial; there’s a lack of genuine eroticism and thrill—it appears more like a decorative costume.

The film ticks all the audio and visual boxes: an excellent soundtrack, precise production and costume design representing ‘80s Hollywood, and several stylistic nods to giallo films and the works of Brian De Palma. However, West doesn’t seem to use these references with real purpose. In fact, they become excessive. While the film tries to be clever, it fails to actually be so, and therein lies the problem.

West inundates us with gestures to film history— a Buster Keaton impersonator menaces Maxine in an alley, she stubs out a cigarette on silent film star Theda Bara’s Walk of Fame star, and Bacon, dressed in “Chinatown” attire, chases her onto the set of the house from “Psycho.” But none of these references culminate in anything meaningful. They come off as tiresome nudges, void of substance. The moment Maxine stomps on Buster’s groin, it’s clear it’s all just a cheap gimmick, a cinematic pun crafted for movie buffs but stripped of any suspense or tension.

As for the murder mystery, it too falls flat. The Night Stalker murders hum in the background, lacking context, like something you’d briefly hear on the nightly news. Maxine’s friends show up dead with satanic symbols carved into them, but much like her friends in Texas, their deaths seem like minor obstacles on her path to fame. It’s unclear why she’s hostile towards the LAPD detectives (Michelle Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale) other than they’re delaying her big break on the set of “The Puritan II.” Director Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki) delivers verbose but ultimately empty monologues about the philosophy of art and the industry.

Like these lengthy speeches, West crams “MaXXXine” with familiar quotes, images, and clichés hinting at “Hollywood commentary,” but there’s no real statement. He manages to say nothing of substance, and by avoiding any critique of his lead character, he undermines her impact. Ruthlessly ambitious Maxine would be far more interesting as a villain rather than a heroine. West hints at her true nature with a quote from Bette Davis, “in this business, until you’re known as a monster, you’re not a star,” but he waffles, robbing her of any real edge.

Only Mia Goth truly comprehends Maxine, just as she did with Pearl, and she portrays the porn star with a heart of coal as the fierce, determined striver she is. When Maxine is bad, Goth is extraordinary, but unfortunately, West never completely unleashes her potential. Goth holds “MaXXXine” together with her sheer charisma, despite the uneven plot, underdeveloped character, and predictable kills that occur routinely.

It’s disappointing because “X” delved fascinatingly into the theme of self-actualization through mediated images. It was evident West had put thought into making a film within a specific genre that addressed the power of self-creation through filmmaking. That was smart and clever, promising much more that could have been expanded in “MaXXXine,” especially with themes of voyeuristic surveillance in an erotic thriller. Sadly, it all becomes hopelessly muddled.

Ultimately, “MaXXXine” is much like the set she gets chased through on the Warner Bros. backlot—a beautiful facade with nothing behind the walls, all superficial symbols and lacking any substantive depth.


2 stars (out of 4)

MPA rating: R (for strong violence, gore, sexual content, graphic nudity, language, and drug use)

Running time: 1:44

How to watch: In theaters July 5

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