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MaXXXine

Glitz, glamor, and gore drench this delightful third act to A24's surprising horror trilogy.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

For years, I knew Ti West for only two films: 2009’s House of the Devil—a horror slow-burn horror I remember really enjoying—and “Second Honeymoon,” the worst short from 2010’s anthology film V/H/S.

That all changed when X released in March of 2022.

With a single ’70s horror pastiche, West was able to garner immense popularity not just for himself but also for Mia Goth, an actress who had slowly been growing in popularity through genre turns like Suspiria, High Life, and Emma.

It was clear that West and Goth made a strong connection when, only six months after X, West released a prequel film (2022’s Pearl) that felt tailor-made to showcase just how captivating Mia Goth is. While 2022 would have been an amazing year for A24 even without X or Pearl, it was still quite a shock to see Ti West get the chance to make two films so close together with no guarantee that either one would be a hit.

Nearly two years later, that chance has paid off. Ti West has now brought X to its climactic finale with MaXXXine, the third (and possibly final) film in the trilogy, and as expected, it’s filled with glitz, glamor, and gore. How will West finish out Maxine’s story? After Pearl gave Goth such a spotlight, how will she be positioned as lead with such a star-studded cast? Will the ’80s backdrop be enough to set the film apart from its predecessors?

Only one way to find out.

Set several years after the events of X, MaXXXine follows Goth’s character from that film, Maxine Minx, as she finally lands her first Hollywood role. After years of working in the porn industry, a casting call gives Maxine a chance to work on a real film: the sequel to a horror cult-classic horror film, “Puritan II.” With hopes high, she believes her big break has finally come to her—that is, until a random videotape left on her doorstep suggest that her past has come back to haunt her. On top of that, Maxine must deal with a sleazy private eye (Kevin Bacon) and two detectives (Michelle Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale) that believe she might be tied to some recent murders in the area. With so many obstacles in her path, Maxine must answer this question: can she do whatever it takes to achieve her dream of becoming a star?

Going into MaXXXine, one of my biggest worries was the setting of 1980s Los Angeles. Even before Stranger Things hit Netflix nearly a decade ago, films and television were already drowning in nostalgic ’80s content, so the idea of having yet another coke-fueled, neon-drenched pastiche of the Reagan years wasn’t exactly the film’s strongest selling point. Thankfully, West circumvents the potential burnout by diving headfirst into stylish cinematography, fast editing, and a breakneck narrative that makes X and Pearl look sluggish in comparison. From minute one, MaXXXine cranks, and doesn’t let up until the credits roll. It’s the type of film where you’re worried to take a bathroom break for fear of missing something.

Compared to West’s slow-burn roots, it was delightful to see him go nuts with the frantic ’80s aesthetic, especially when it comes to the set and costume design. While the decade has certainly been done to death, it’s easy to see the appeal of playing in a playground that really digs into the ”video nasty” era of horror.

On top of that, it’s clear that everyone in the film is having a blast. From Giancarlo Esposito as Maxine’s lawyer/agent to Lily Collins as a legacy character in the Puritan franchise, the most unique part about MaXXXine compared to its predecessors is definitely the size of its ensemble and how it’s used in the narrative. The broader cast leads to a less “showy” performance from Goth, compared to the previous films—one which allows her the space to really focus on Maxine’s internal conflicts involving her past (including but not limited to the events of X). Despite the more reserved turn, Goth nevertheless commands the screen just as easily as before. With her Southern accent and no-nonsense attitude, it’s quite enjoyable to see Maxine let loose now that her agency is less about genuine survival and more about preserving her dream as a star.

Now, with the playground and ensemble in place, it’s time to talk about the horror itself. While the film genuinely feels more like a noir mystery thriller than a slasher film, it’s hard not to see its horror influences through its gore, visual effects, and approach to its kills. It even has some giallo influences through a black-gloved murderer, a jigsaw puzzle mystery, and visceral murder sequences that drench the scene not only in sharp, red lighting but prog rock inspired tracks that feel like composer Tyler Bates’ nod to the Italian icons Goblin. While the previous two films have their own unique takes on a slasher narrative, MaXXXine has the most fun with it by being a bit more bombastic, especially towards the end. What can I say? If you put giallo elements in a slasher, it’s the easiest way to put a smile on my face.

That being said though, the weakest part of MaXXXine is definitely the mystery that constitutes the main narrative. As much as I enjoyed X and Pearl, I’ll admit that both of those films thrive on their performances and style because their plots are incredibly straightforward and fairly dry character-wise. With only one narrative element of X that felt ripe for future development, I was hoping that MaXXXine might take that and twist it into something super interesting for the mystery at hand. Sadly, much like its predecessors, the mystery of MaXXXine is as simple as can be. I won’t spoil it here, but I’ll say this: there’s a high probability that your first guess as to who the killer is in MaXXXine is absolutely right. Throughout the film, I even tried to make alternate guesses as to who else it could be, but with very few logical options given, I think it’s probably safe to say that MaXXXine will be one of 2024’s easiest murder mysteries. 

Even still, that really doesn’t stop MaXXXine from being my favorite in the trilogy. While the ’80s pastiche is certainly the most overused era in the franchise, there’s an energy, style, and confidence that makes it an easy watch and recommendation. Any fan of the era of ridiculous gore, cult classic horror, and beautifully painted VHS covers of women screaming bloody murder will get a kick out of this film. As for fans solely of X and Pearl, I think Goth’s delightful performance, along with the wonderful ensemble, will give them enough of a satisfying follow-up. While I don’t know where West and Goth’s collaborative relationship will go from here, I’m happy to say that it has at least given us a really fun, incredibly consistent trilogy that I’ll certainly revisit in the future. 

In the end, MaXXXine is a great time that cements Maxine Minx as one hell of a horror protagonist. The fact that we have this and Longlegs coming out in the same month shows just how good horror fans are eating in 2024. 

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Freelance writer out of Indianapolis. Co-host of Odd Trilogies podcast. Whether it's films or television, I'm always down to watch!

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