MaXXXine film poster and movie review

Movie Reviews

MaXXXine

Reviewed by:
Luke Bonanno on July 5, 2024

Theatrical Release:
July 5, 2024

A clear increase in budget does nothing to dilute the passion that writer-director Ti West and leading lady-producer Mia Goth hold for this A24 horror universe.

Running Time101 min

RatingR

Running Time 101 min

RatingR

Ti West

Ti West

Mia Goth (Maxine Mink), Elizabeth Debicki (Elizabeth Bender), Moses Sumney (Leon), Michelle Monaghan (Detective Williams), Bobby Cannavale (Detective Torres), Halsey (Tabby Martin), Lily Collins (Molly Bennett), Giancarlo Esposito (Teddy Knight, Esq.), Kevin Bacon (John Labat), Simon Prast (Ernest Miller), Chloe Farnworth (Amber James), Sophie Thatcher (FX Artist), Ned Vaughn (News Anchor), Charley Rowan McCain (Young Maxine)


MaXXXine (2024)

by Luke Bonanno

A24 has had its fair share of success in what has come to be classified as elevated horror, but only one such work has evolved into a full-blown franchise. X, released in early 2022, quickly gave way to the prequel Pearl that very same year. Now, two years later, the saga continues in MaXXXine, a sequel to X which picks up six years later in 1985.

Filling the lead role for the third time is Mia Goth, whose Texas bumpkin Maxine has come a long way from stealthily shooting porn movies in a rented farmhouse. Now, she’s Maxine Minx, a bona fide adult film star looking to blow up even more by breaking into mainstream film. The 33-year-old has her eyes set firmly on The Puritan II, a high-profile sequel she sees as a potential crossover vehicle.

Maxine (mia goth, with halsey) is well on her way to becoming a star in a24's "maxxxine. "

Maxine crushes the audition, impressing perfectionist English writer-director Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki) and landing the protagonist role. But before she can savor this breakthrough opportunity, Maxine’s dark past comes to haunt her in the form of an incriminating videotape and some impassioned demands from skeezy private eye John Labat (Kevin Bacon, enjoying a mini-renaissance this week between this and Netflix’s Beverly Hills Cop: Axel F).

While protestors rail against Hollywood’s corrupting powers and local authorities investigate the serial killer dubbed the Night Stalker, Maxine assesses and navigate her threat without jeopardizing her new gig.

As on the previous two outings, Ti West writes and directs. The 43-year-old filmmaker has been writing and directing features since 2005, but his standing has clearly risen with the popularity of this series. The budget for MaXXXine has not officially been reported anywhere, but it must be an upgrade from the mere $1 million for which X and Pearl were made for (thanks to a cost-cutting back-to-back shoot). This time out, there’s room to pay such veterans as Giancarlo Esposito (playing Maxine’s agent and entertainment lawyer), Lily Collins (the star of the original The Puritan), Bobby Cannavale and Michelle Monaghan (the lead homicide detectives circling around Maxine), and singer Halsey (playing Maxine’s porn colleague). But the undetermined increase in funds does nothing to undercut West’s fine creative instincts or to dilute the passion he and Goth, who co-wrote Pearl and this time receives a producer credit, hold for this universe.

It’s rare for a low-budget original horror film to capture the public’s attention. It’s rarer still for the filmmakers to delve deeper into that world to satisfying results. The Blair Witch Project had its brilliance followed by the unfortunate Book of Secrets: Blair Witch 2. Saw gave way to the ho-hum Saw II. Paranormal Activity actually had a couple of better-than-expected follow-ups before surely fizzling out. The Conjuring and Insidious franchises have both outstayed their welcomes. To a degree, all of those hits have relied on concepts. The X film series was born more out of a time, a place, and a character. And virtually all would agree that Pearl, set during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, was a big improvement over X. I am proud to belong to a critics group that nominated Goth for Best Actress for that prequel. She got my vote and I stand by it.

Maxine and, to an even greater degree, Pearl give us holy unions between actor and character. Goth is young enough to have her entire career ahead of her, but I’d be shocked if she finds another role as striking and iconic as her complex, fame-seeking maniac. I suspect she would be too, which is why she’s relished the opportunity to play in this world three times in a span of less than three years. In contrast to the calculated cinematic universes that until recently flourished, West and Goth’s creation has seemingly expanded organically and with inspiration leading the way. We haven’t gotten three movies because they make a lot of money; X grossed $15 million worldwide and Pearl ended up with under $10 M. We get them because people enjoy them a great deal and those people should find MaXXXine plenty enjoyable.

Kevin bacon picks up his most iconic big screen credit in a while as john labat, the slimeball private eye hired to make maxine pay for her past.

While this third installment does not quite reach the lofty heights of Pearl and its weirdly congruent 100-year-old setting, it comes close with a grimy mystery that embraces the seedy side of show business and the looks and music of mid-1980s Los Angeles. Goth once again excels, as Maxine proves herself to be more and more like the 1910s Texan aspiring starlet she somehow closely resembles. And West does too, seizing upon little facets of the entertainment world that are sure to amuse those who follow it, like setting much of the action around a video rental store.

MaXXXine is dark and unflinching. It serves up graphic violence when it needs to, but it’s constantly subverting expectations. There is nothing inevitable about how it will play out and seemingly nothing is compromised in the interests of stretching the series further. West has already expressed he has an idea for a fourth film in the franchise and, reading into it, it’s probably not just seeing Maxine cope with aging in the ’90s. (There is a sixty-year gap in Pearl’s timeline…)

Whether or not this series goes any further, it has already been an unusual triumph in an age when the industry is more reliant than ever upon proven brands and playing things safe. At this point, West and Goth’s fruitful collaboration is the most proven brand in play this decade since the Marvel Cinematic Universe lost its way.

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