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Film Review: MaXXXine

MaXXXine, the third installment in Ti West’s X film series, could potentially be the finale. However, writer and director West has hinted at the possibility of a fourth film. The series began with the hit horror film X and continued with the lavish slasher movie Pearl. The central figures in all three films are Pearl and Maxine Minx. MaXXXine is the sequel to X, set sometime after the deadly events in Texas that led to Maxine fleeing the scene of the crimes. 

You can watch the trailer for the film here:

The film MaXXXine, starring a star-studded cast including Mia Goth, Elizabeth Debicki, Moses Sumney, Michelle Monaghan, Bobby Cannavale, Halsey, and Lily Collins, with Giancarlo Esposito and Kevin Bacon, offers a unique blend of gritty 80s style exploitation films set in Hollywood like Angel, a glimpse into the reality of being an actor in the industry, and the chilling legend of the Night Stalker, the feared serial killer that haunted Los Angeles in the 80s. 

In adopting a new style with each new film, Ti West is taking risks because it is always possible that the audience that loved the previous film’s style might not like the new direction. Fans of certain subgenres in horror have a distinct tendency to cling to the formula of their beloved films, and it seems that some of the early reactions to the film have leaned in that direction.

However, the film remains the story of Maxine Minx, played by Mia Goth, and has style to burn and clearly moves between the grime of 80s of Hollywood Boulevard and the backlot of Universal Studios. The film vividly illustrates how an actor can be making a living however they can and instantly have their circumstances change with one audition. It’s the dream, but it pulls back the curtain to show how tenuous that success really is and how much the audience doesn’t know about the realities of the business.

It is the difference between the glamour of show business and the realities of everyday life in Los Angeles. 

The audition sequence is a showstopper that is quite realistic. Maxine admits that time is running out for her in pornography, with the unspoken admission that she is aging out of Hollywood, too, since she is already 31. Maxine is an accomplished and determined actress who has the goods but faces stereotyping and contempt from Hollywood for practicing her craft in a forbidden genre of filmmaking. Her entryway is another genre that is looked down upon by the powers that be: horror. 

One of the most powerful things about Maxine, who is a mirror image of the more unfortunate Pearl, is that while she was raised by a religious fanatic, the idea that she deserves more was drummed into her head by her preacher father, which led to her becoming a powerful woman who never backs down. She never cowers or screams and reacts with a businesslike coldness when required to disrobe while auditioning. Maxine does whatever it takes to survive. 

Perhaps people think of the life of an actor as much more magical than it actually is, but one of the key themes in MaXXXine is that it is a job just like any other. Displease your boss, get fired, Come in late, get fired. Don’t produce the work that the director wants, get fired and replaced, just like that. It hammers home the idea that for most women in the business and in life, you are both replaceable and disposable, especially with the serial killer subplots. 

For some reason, the film has been criticized for not having a surprise reveal of the killer. West has indulged in some misdirection, which works perfectly within the parameters of the chosen style of the film. But West has been telling you since X where the danger would come from and who the villain will be. 

There’s one moment that is very instructive that brings the horror film classic Psycho into the mix which is quite clever as it brings together the threads of the series. In the scene, Maxine has to hide on the backlot and runs into the famed Psycho house, which is only a facade. Not only does it show that Hollywood is more about exteriors than interiors, but it is also an amusing bit of symbolism that recalls a similar moment in the book Ghost Story when a character is thrown through a film screen in a theater that is showing Night of the Living Dead. I haven’t read any of West’s interviews yet, so I don’t know if it was intentionally riffing on Ghost Story, but I couldn’t help but think of it. 

Cinematographer Eliot Rockett has adapted to the new style as ably as he has with all of the previous installments. There’s a bit of Taxi Driver, with the outdoor nighttime scenes that seem to drip with moisture and dark shadows and a Southern California hazy heat to the daytime scenes at Uni. Each one is the flip side of the other, but each carries its own unique traps and dangers. 

The cast is solid, with character actors like Giancarlo Esposito and Kevin Bacon doing cagey and sly work, but Moses Sumney, Michelle Monaghan, Bobby Cannavale, Halsey, and Lily Collins playing sympathetic characters with their own motivations, which you feel for. Mia Goth, as Maxine, gives the character, who has had a few years to grow up and process the events in Texas, a depth and determination that is even greater than in X

Maxine Minx has come to accept herself and what she has done to get ahead. She has taken responsibility for her actions but has isolated herself for her own protection. However, while she has softened a bit, she continues to be a hardened survivor. 

MaXXXine takes the idea of the 80s exploitation slasher and adds the powerful backstory of the pain of being a woman in a world that’s out to get you. Grimy and sleazy, it illuminates the disappointments in the industry and the evils of the world that snatch the unwary as its victims. Obsession, power, madness, and the need for control collide with the absolute devotion of one woman who will not be denied her destiny as she learns the power of sisterhood and family. It’s got some really good gore, particularly in a scene where some internal organs are shown, glossy in a shaft of light, and commits wholeheartedly to its chosen subgenre. MaXXXine is entertaining, sleazy, and bloody good fun.

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