Review: ‘MaXXXine,’ starring Mia Goth, Elizabeth Debicki, Moses Sumney, Michelle Monaghan, Bobby Cannavale, Halsey, Lily Collins, Giancarlo Esposito and Kevin Bacon

July 5, 2024

by Carla Hay

Mia Goth in “MaXXXine” (Photo by Justin Lubin/A24)

“MaXXXine”

Directed by Ti West

Culture Representation: Taking place in Los Angeles in 1985, the horror film “MaXXXine” (a sequel to 2022’s “X”) features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some black people) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Maxine Minx aims to transition from porn films to her first starring role in a mainstream horror film, but she is being stalked by someone who threatens to reveal scandalous murder secrets from her past.  

Culture Audience: “MaXXXine” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners, the “X” movie series and horror movies that don’t do anything groundbreaking but deliver suspense with good acting.

Mia Goth and Halsey in “MaXXXine” (Photo by Justin Lubin/A24)

As a sequel, “MaXXXine” doesn’t quite live up to expectations and has a very clumsily staged showdown ending. But the movie has a mostly skillful blend of horror and suspense, with Mia Goth giving another memorable performance. Some of the characters in the movie, although interesting, border on being caricatures. And it’s very easy to figure out who the mystery stalker is in the story, if viewers know how 2022’s “X” movie ended.

Ti West is the director and writer of the “X” slasher horror movie series, which began with 2022’s “X” and continued with the 2022 prequel “Pearl” and 2024’s “MaXXXine.” Goth is the star of all three films and is a co-writer of “Pearl.” “X” (which took place in Texas in 1979) shows what happened when the filming of a porn movie called “The Farmer’s Daughter” at a remote farm turned into a massacre when the disapproving farm owners found out that their property was being used to film pornography.

Spoiler alert for people who haven’t seen the “X” movie: Maxine Minx (played by Goth), the star of “The Farmer’s Daughter,” was the sole survivor of this massacre, which was instigated by the farm’s two owners: an elderly couple named Howard (played by Stephen Ure), nicknamed Howie, and his wife Pearl (also played by Goth). At the end of the massacre, Maxine left the property without telling anyone what happened. Maxine is originally from Texas and still talks with a thick Texas twang. The movie “Pearl” showed how Pearl became a serial killer while she was in her late teens and when she living with her parents on that same farm.

“MaXXXine,” which takes place in 1985 in Los Angeles, shows how 33-year-old Maxine gets her first starring role in a mainstream movie, but she is being stalked by a mystery man, who knows she was involved in the 1979 massacre at that Texas farm. This mystery man has hired a sleazy private detective named John Labat (played by Kevin Bacon), who has traveled from New Orleans to track down Maxine in Los Angeles. John has been tasked with informing Maxine that the person who hired him wants Maxine to be punished and possibly murdered.

Maxine has some of the same personality traits that she had in the “X” movie: She is still a cocaine-snorting and arrogant actress who believes she has what it takes to be a superstar. However, Maxine (considering what she’s experienced) is much more cynical and calculating than she was in the beginning of “X.”

An early scene in “MaXXXine” shows Maxine walking confidently into a warehouse-like soundstage to audition for the starring role in a horror sequel called “The Puritan 2.” The director of “The Puritan 2” is the coldly ambitious Elizabeth Bender (played by Elizabeth Debicki), who wants to be considered a film auteur, not just a horror filmmaking hack. Later in the movie, Elizabeth and Maxine have a conversation where they both understand that they are similarly cold-blooded and obsessed with their ambitions.

Maxine is auditioning for the role of Veronica Rutland and has to read an emotionally vulnerable monologue to Elizabeth and two other people on a judging panel. Maxine’s audition is also a screen test because it’s being filmed. Elizabeth tells Maxine that in this audition scene, Maxine has to show how the character of Veronica “confronts her pain.”

The decision makers all know about Maxine’s porn history. She assures them that she’s no longer doing porn movies, and she’s got the talent to do mainstream films. Still, even after doing a very convincing monologue, Maxine is asked to take off her top so the filmmakers can look at her breasts, because the Veronica Rutland role requires nudity. After this audition, Maxine struts outside and shouts to the line of actresses waiting to be called next about how she thinks her audition went: “You might as well go home because I fucking nailed that!”

Until she gets her big break in mainstream movies, Maxine is still doing sex work. Maxine works as a performer at a peep show joint called Show World. Unbeknownst to Maxine, she has a stalker who becomes one of her Show World customers one night. Until his identity is revealed, the stalker (who likes to wear all black leather) is seen only from the back. Maxine is friendly with one of her Show World co-workers named Tabby Martin (played by Halsey), who seems to be doing some street prostitution.

Maxine hasn’t completely removed herself from the porn film industry. After she auditions for “The Puritan 2,” she’s seen visiting a porn set and having a conversation in the dressing room with one of the porn movie’s actresses named Amber James (played by Chloe Farnworth), who is one Maxine’s few friends. Amber listens with some skepticism when Maxine brags that Maxine will soon make the transition into mainstream films.

Maxine’s best friend is Leon (played by Moses Sumney), a movie enthusiast who works at a local video store. Leon, who is openly gay, is the closest thing that Maxine has to a family member. Maxine and Leon also spend time hanging out at his cluttered apartment.

Some of the movie’s dark comedic moments are when Maxine interacts with her agent/attorney Teddy Night (played by Giancarlo Esposito), a fast-talking wheeler dealer who wants Maxine to break into mainstream films. Teddy has shady connections and doesn’t hesitate to get involved in doing some dirty work. When Teddy tells Maxine the news that she got the role in “The Puritan 2,” they are both elated. During the first day of filming the movie, Maxine meets her British co-star Molly Bennett (played by Lily Collins), who plays one of the nuns in “Puritan 2.”

As shown repeatedly in “MaXXXine,” Maxine is living in Los Angeles during a time when the serial killer nicknamed the Night Stalker (later identified in real life as devil worshipper Richard Ramirez) was causing terror around the Los Angeles area by breaking into people’s homes and viciously murdering them. Some of the murders that happen in the movie could be blamed on the Night Stalker or could be blamed on the real killer. The murders in “MaXXXine” are inevitably bloody and gruesome.

Maxine’s friends warn her not to go in unsafe places alone at night. But one night, she does exactly that and gets trapped in a dark alley with a Buster Keaton impersonator (played by Zachary Mooren), who wants to rob her with a knife. It’s enough to say that this would-be robber finds out quickly that you don’t mess with Maxine and her stiletto heels.

Two homicide investigators named Detective Williams (played by Michelle Monaghan) and Detective Torres (played by Bobby Cannavale) first come into contact with Maxine when they question her as a possible witness for a double homicide. Some of the movie’s comedic moments (which are hit-and-miss) are in the partner dynamics of Detective Williams (who plays the “good cop” in interrogations) and Detective Torres (who plays the “bad cop” in interrogations). Detective Torres, who reveals to one of the witnesses that he’s a failed actor, often irritates Detective Williams, who thinks Detective Torres is too aggressive during interrogations, and therefore he alienates witnesses.

“MaXXXine” makes great use of its 1980s soundtrack music to enhance some of the scenes. ZZ Top’s “Gimme All Your Lovin'” is the song playing when Maxine struts into her audition for “The Puritan 2.” In a somewhat unnecessary but still visually compelling scene, Maxine goes to a nightclub and dances among a group of people to an extended mix of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Welcome to the Pleasure Dome.” It may be too “on the nose,” but in a movie taking place in 1985 and has a stalker, it should come as no surprise that Animotion’s “Obsession” is part of the soundtrack. And during the movie’s end credits, Kim Carnes’ “Bette Davis Eyes” is a perfect choice that captures the mood of the very last scene.

“Maxine” also excels with its production design and locations. There are some very memorable scenes filmed on what’s supposed to be the Universal Studios lot, with some of the action taking place in or near the famous Norman Bates house used in the 1960 horror classic “Psycho.” “MaXXXine” also convincingly reacreates the tone and energy of what Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard were like in the mid-1980s. The costume design, hair and makeup are also very accurate.

The movie’s plot somewhat wanders in preference of showing moods and atmospheres. Maxine, who wants to appear fearless and self-assured, feels increasing terror as she finds out that she has a stalker and starts to understand that her stalker wants to kill her. One of the more striking scenes is when Maxine is getting a mold of her face done for “The Puritan 2,” and she has a panic attack flashback when she remembers what happened during the 1979 massacre in Texas. But since viewers know that Maxine wants to be a superstar more than anything else, she’s determined not to let anything to get in the way of her big break in “The Puritan 2.”

As Maxine, Goth gives the type of riveting performance that is the main reason to watch “MaXXXine,” which is a film that makes pointed commentary about the horror that can result from obsessive ambition. The supporting characters in “MaXXXine” just aren’t as well-developed as the supporting characters in “X” and “Pearl.” The Molly Bennett character in “MaXXXine” gets such little screen time and has such little bearing on the overall story, she might as well have not been in the movie.

Detective Williams and Detective Torres eventually become parodies because it seems like almost a joke for viewers to believe that the Los Angeles Police Department only has two cops working on all the homicides that occur in such a short period of time. There’s also a very unrealistic scene where a murder victim is carried out on a gurney on a street into a waiting ambulance while bystanders are watching, and Detective Williams dramatically flings off the bloody sheet that’s covering the victim’s mutilated body, just so Maxine (one of the bystanders) can see who the murder victim is.

“The Puritan 2” director Elizabeth seems like she wants to be Maxine’s mentor, but not enough of that relationship is explored in “MaXXXine.” In fact, Maxine’s actual work on “The Puritan 2” is rushed into the last third of “MaXXXine,” almost like an afterthought. But the weakest link in “MaXXXine” is the ridiculous-looking showdown, which cheapens the quality of the story. After all the buildup over Maxine’s quest for stardom, the results are overly contrived and anti-climactic, like a porn performer faking an orgasm in the type of porn movie that Maxine used to make.

A24 released “MaXXXine” in U.S. cinemas on July 5, 2024. Sneak previews of the movie took place in U.S. cinema on July 1 and July 3, 2024.

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