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Maxxxine ★★★



Release: 5th July 2024

Director: Ti West

Cast: Mia Goth, Elizabeth Debicki, Giancarlo Esposito, Halsey, Moses Sumney, Michelle Monaghan, Bobby Cannavale, Lily Collins & Kevin Bacon

There is a moment in MaXXXine that made the entire audience at our recent multimedia screening scream in shock. Maxine Minx (Mia Goth) is confronted by an emo-dressing Buster Keaton (Zachary Mooren) down a dark alleyway. He threatens her with a knife. She confronts him with a gun and before you know it, the encounter gets dark. She tells him to strip naked, lie flat on the ground and then proceeds to stamp on his private parts.

If you’ve come this far in Ti West’s horror trifecta of the Hollywood dream, these graphically violent scenes should come as no surprise. In encapsulating the dark and perverted underbelly of fame and stardom, violence is an escalating output of release, fuelled by age, personal ambition and sexual desire from its leading characters. Who can forget Maxine (Goth) reversing her truck into Pearl (also Goth), crushing her skull in the process in the Texas Chainsaw Massacre-inspired X (2022)? Or the soon-to-be Superman David Corenswet as The Projectionist, stabbed by a pitchfork in the Wizard of Oz-inspired Pearl? Even the above-mentioned scene acts as a tongue-in-cheek commentary between old and new Hollywood. The Buster Keaton-lookalike fighting to be remembered while Maxine is on the brink of stardom as America’s new scream queen. The odes to Hollywood are intentional, stylistically paying tribute to the decade whilst serving as a backdrop for both Maxine and Pearl and their escapist fantasies and deadly indulges to be “a star”. Thankfully, MaXXXine – the final chapter in this trilogy – carries that same riotous energy, however, the results this time around are a different kind of beast.

Writer and director West doesn’t quite capture the same highs or thrills as Pearl. The trilogy’s prequel backstory weaves together a psychologically twisted narrative dealing with the failure of a lost dream. Goth’s commitment (a constant success throughout the trilogy) imbues Pearl with the complexity and downward spiral that adds emotional context for her villainous turn in X. MaXXXine doesn’t have the same luxury. Influenced by the real-life serial killer of Richard Ramirez aka The Night Stalker who terrorised the streets of LA from 84-85, the film’s murder explorations are surface level at best. Characters are left without depth, with fewer shocks this time around as many half-finished ideas are infused into its uneven plot. In other words, it’s a ‘vibes movie’, playing loose and happy to dance in its darkly comic, 80s neon glow. Now that could have been the point, however, some aspects of its storytelling will feel unsatisfying and anti-climactic. Still, when it remembers its strengths, MaXXXine is a lot of fun.

You have to give the production credit for its attention to detail because if there is one thing the movie gets right, it’s the 80s aesthetics of the ‘video nasty’ era. This cocaine-fuelled throwback rejects any nostalgic glossiness of the decade (therefore, forget any Spielbergian classic you watched as a kid) to embed itself into the ugliness of its pop-cultured world. Alongside the Night Stalker’s activities, West dedicates time to exploring the rise of toxic conservatism, ready to call out Hollywood for its “sins”. It’s a city living on a knife edge, a perfect set-up for Maxine’s adventure in the industry having landed the starring role in The Puritan II.

You also sense West wanting to expand Maxine’s world, and within it, fills the screen with eclectic characters. Puritan director Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki) wants to turn her sequel into something meaningful and with substance. Giancarlo Esposito’s Teddy Night Esq. shines as Maxine’s agent and fixer whilst wearing a laughable wig. The best of the bunch easily belongs to Kevin Bacon’s John Labat, a private investigator who confronts Maxine about her past. Bacon is on top form here with his greasy accent yet dressing like a discount Jack Nicholson in Chinatown. It borders on self-parody and over-the-top, which is true of the decade and why it is so entertaining. It’s always in on the joke right despite the limited screen time they’re on for. Yet, the flip side of this leaves Maxine slightly on the sidelines of her own movie.

Still, it’s Goth’s ruthless performance that makes MaXXXine a success, channelling Maxine’s ambitious drive with her trademark self-assurance and confidence. She makes it all feel seamless, switching up emotions in the same scene from crying in front of an audition camera to self-centred is a visual treat. But not immune to the triggers and traumas of her past, the vulnerability of when the past comes to haunt her, is where she shines best, including a nightmarish scene where she gets a casting mould on her face. Her collaboration with West only seems to get stronger knowing the different themes they want to explore. It notably brings up an apt conversation about womanhood in the industry, about solidarity and protection which Maxine is tested on. And even when the film loses momentum in the third act, she remains compelling right towards the end.

It’s only when you take a step back that you realise seeing what West accomplished is great to see, especially in an IP-driven market. MaXXXine is far from perfect, but West and Goth have found a unique voice and angle to mould this adventurous story into an immensely memorable feat in the horror genre. Hopefully, there’s more to come from the duo.

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