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Maxxxine Review: A Great Horror Trilogy Goes Out In Style

  • Mia Goth is fantastic
  • The 1980s production design is great
  • It's both scary and very witty
  • It stumbles in the third act as it tries to carry too many plot elements

Ti West's "X" trilogy has always felt special. The films, which kicked off with "X" in 2022, marked West's return to horror features after nearly a decade away, and revealed that the filmmaker lost none of his reverence for the genre's history in the intervening years. Add in incredible lead performances from Mia Goth in both "X" (in which she played two roles) and its prequel "Pearl" that premiered the same year, and the films crackled with earnest energy that lent more oomph to the often visceral scares.

But there's something else about these films that makes them particularly special in contemporary horror history, something that the third film in the trilogy, "Maxxxine," does not hesitate to remind us. Rather than focusing on a linear trilogy with direct follow-ups, West and Goth have given us three films each set in a different era, with cinema as a constant throughline and a source of thematic potential. Each film has its own plot, of course, but all three films are a larger exploration of what cinema does to us as viewers, participants, and pieces of a larger popular culture. With "Maxxxine," possibly the franchise's curtain call, West never loses sight of that keen sense of cultural exploration, of the bigger picture surrounding the horror — while Goth has lost none of her blistering energy. It might be the weakest of the trilogy, but those elements and more are enough to make "Maxxxine" a summer thrill you won't soon forget.

Hollywood, 1985

As the film opens, it's been six years since the events of "X," and the lone survivor of that massacre, Maxine (Mia Goth), has put it all behind her. After years of making a living as a porn star and stripper known as Maxine Minx, Maxine is ready to take the next step to becoming a serious actress, auditioning for a high-profile horror film that could make her a mainstream star. Confident, talented, and gutsy, Maxine seems to have what it takes to push forward into a new phase of her career.

But Maxine's world is full of monsters, and they're not just sleazy producers and cutthroat directors. Los Angeles is being stalked by a serial killer called the Night Stalker, protestors chanting about obscenity and blasphemy are constantly camped outside the studio where the horror film is being made, and perhaps most alarmingly, someone is very aware of Maxine's past. As a slimy private detective (Kevin Bacon) and the specter of brutal death seem to stalk her at every turn, Maxine tries to press on with her career, knowing all the while that she's probably on a collision course she can't steer away from.

As with the other films in the series, "Maxxxine" pulls right away from the styles and fears of its era, as Ti West and the entire production team immerse us in 1985 Hollywood with its VHS boom, citywide serial killer panic, and of course, killer soundtrack. If "X" was all about seat of your pants, DIY filmmaking mixed with "Texas Chain Saw Massacre"-style brutalism, then this film calls to mind '80s thrillers like "Stripped to Kill" and "Body Double." It's a thrilling, endlessly entertaining pastiche of dirty city streets, peep shows, convertibles, denim, and black leather gloves glazed with blood, and like the other two films in this trilogy, it never lets up. It's clear right away that West knows exactly what kind of elements he wants to play with, and he's having a great time diving deep into the horrors of 1985.

Mia Goth triumphs as Maxine stumbles

Perhaps the biggest story to come from these three films has been the collaborative power of Ti West and Mis Goth, and the trilogy's star has lost none of her power in the third installment. In one particularly effective scene, she closes her eyes and conjures tears seemingly out of nowhere, then turns around and sashays out of the room like she's in a ZZ Top music video. In others, she gives us the fresh-faced, ambitious Maxine of "X," then morphs instantly into the more worldly, more ruthless Maxine of 1985. West may be the mastermind, the director, the writer, and even the editor, but these films seem destined to be remembered as Mia Goth movies because the sheer force of her presence and talent is enough to keep them going even if they start to drift.

And more than either of the other two films, "Maxxxine" does start to drift at times. In terms of story, it goes beyond simple immersion in the style of the mid-1980s and into the realm of full-on pastiche, incorporating elements of erotic thrillers, detective stories, and yes, slasher films into its narrative, along with an overarching exploration of the puritanical backlash to horror films and adult entertainment gaining more widespread cultural reach amid the rise of the VCR. That means Maxine herself has to contend with killers, grifters, outraged public figures, and even the darkness of her own past all in the span of a film that runs roughly 100 minutes. To call the movie stuffed would be kind, and by the third act, it does start to veer a little wildly as it tries to keep its narrative and character focus while also delivering the horror movie goods. It still works, though sometimes in a way that calls to mind the fondly remembered but clumsily executed mid-budget thrillers of the 1980s — but it never works as well as the films that came before it. It's entertaining, yes, and Goth is magnetic as always, but it's never quite as revelatory as "X" and "Pearl."

Still, there's plenty to love about "Maxxxine," from its style points to its fearless leading lady and many other wonderful narrative flourishes in between. It's a great time at the movies for slasher fans, '80s pop culture fans, and Mia Goth fans alike, and even with a few stumbles in mind, it manages to stand as one of the summer's must-see films.

"Maxxxine" arrives in theaters on July 5.