Maxxxine – Film Review

It’s a dark time in human history in the 1980s! Satanic panic is on everyone’s mind, Richard Ramirez ‘The Night Stalker’ is terrorising the state of California, while the war on drugs is having little to no effect and cocaine flows freely into America. With all this going on in the background, an exotic dancer and porn star named Maxine (Mia Goth) wants to make it big in Hollywood.

When we last left Maxine, she had just survived the world’s worst ever film shoot. The adult movie her boyfriend was producing led to the deaths of all involved at the hands of the elderly owners of the farm they were filming on. Only Maxine survived, killing the farm owners in self-defence and fleeing the scene. Now in Tinseltown, Maxine works her ass off to pay the bills and tries to transition to more legitimate films. When director Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki) casts her in a new horror film, it seems Maxine‘s star is finally on the rise.

But little does Maxine know that she’s being stalked by a dangerous psychopath. With the assistance of private investigator John Labat (Kevin Bacon), this psycho begins to target Maxine and everyone she considers a friend. With LAPD detectives Williams (Michelle Monaghan) and Torres (Bobby Cannavale) breathing down her neck, it’s only a question of what will happen first. Will Maxine‘s violent past be revealed or will this killer put an end to her career before it has even started?

Written and directed by Ty West, Maxxxine is the third in his multi genre trilogy of horror films after 2022’s surprise hits ‘X’ and ‘Pearl’. Both starred Mia Goth as two separate characters. ‘X’ was inspired by grindhouse horrors of the 70s while ‘Pearl’ was a fascinating prequel, itself a love letter to technicolour musicals of the past. Now Maxxxine, a direct sequel to ‘X’, follows sole survivor, Maxine Minx as she continues her ambitions to become a star in Hollywood.

The varying genre inspirations of the ‘X’ saga have been its greatest asset and that goes double for Maxxxine. While other horror film franchises tend to just be re-treads of the same basic idea multiple times, West has shaken things up with each instalment. A prequel to a general slasher film, ‘Pearl’ was a character piece which showed Mia Goth‘s acting talents as well as ‘Joker’ had for Joaquin Phoenix.

Maxxxine takes its cues directly from the stylish ‘Giallo’ Italian pictures of the 80s. Particularly the work of Brian De Palma with films such as ‘Body Double‘ and ‘Dressed to Kill’. This slick and vibrant feeling bleeds throughout the entire film from the leather outfit of the killer, flamboyant hairdos, the neon lighting, and rainy streets of LA’s seedy underbelly. This can be felt even with the film’s choppy editing and use of split screen, and a score largely comprised of hit pop songs of the time.

There is also an old school feel to the blood and gore with prosthetics and retro filmmaking techniques being a part of the plot itself. Being able to shoot on the Universal Studios backlot, Maxine‘s new Hollywood world is full of familiar locations and nostalgia. Some of it rather inconsequential to the story, but still nice to look at.

Performances in Maxxxine don’t always take advantage of the film’s massive talented cast. Kevin Bacon receives the lion’s share of memorable scenes as this sleazy if not altogether too menacing PI. It’s also great seeing Giancarlo Esposito able to once again branch out as Maxine‘s cut-throat agent, Teddy Night. On the other hand, Cannavale and Monaghan feel underused while Debicki‘s mock accent and long winded monologues feel out of place.

The main personal disappointment is after the success of ‘Pearl’, Maxxxine’s film script doesn’t take full advantage of Mia Goth. I was stunned by how amazing she was in ‘Pearl’ and had hoped Maxxxine would meld both characters that she had played into one dangerously ambitious star, willing to do whatever she needed to do to make her dreams reality. Maxxxine shows great promise of that early on but unfortunately, it goes off the rails by its third act, with Goth mostly staying silent as other characters do all the talking.

Perhaps Maxxxine is too successful in being an homage to the Giallo sub-genre for its own good. This type of film is usually “style over substance” by design and in that way Maxxxine is an incredibly striking film in the same way as its two predecessors. But in those cases, Ty West transcended his chosen genres in ways that this film does not. Making a worthy third instalment, Maxxxine is entertaining but definitely the weakest of the ‘X’ franchise.

Maxxxine is in cinemas from July 11.

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