Written by Tom Augustine.

A few years ago, Netflix released the Fear Street movies – a trilogy of throwback slashers based on the R.L. Stine series of the same name. While hardly masterpieces, they were schlocky, low-budget fun, with a little dash of ambition mixed in care of a bold, time-jumping structure. There’s a lot to compare in that series and Ti West’s X Trilogy, which concludes this year with MaXXXine and gleefully cribs from horror styles and eras of the past while jumping around in time, as Fear Street does. The horror genre is no stranger to pastiche, works of imitation of the art of other time periods – indeed, many of the great horrors of the 21st Century have at least some modicum of imitation in their style (think It Follows, with the enormous debt it owes to the films of John Carpenter). So why has West’s series become the horror trilogy of the moment, while Fear Street has receded out of sight? There’s the straight-to-streaming death warrant Fear Street received – probably fitting for a series that plays around with B-movie horror tropes with such obvious glee. Perhaps West’s elevated status as a great hope for the genre is a factor, too, his oeuvre of fun, nasty, scuzzy horrors amassing a potent fandom which isn’t necessarily earned by the work itself. Often, they are certainly of a higher level of directorial prowess than the Fear Street series, but are only superficially deeper in subtext. West has an ace up his sleeve here though – the fearless alt-cinema It Girl Mia Goth, who fills dual roles in the series as pornstar Maxine Minx and psychopathic killer Pearl. If nothing else, the series is an enjoyable showcase of Goth’s many talents, particularly in the shaggy but compelling middle entry in the series Pearl.


Where X was an enjoyable ode to the sweaty exploitation horrors of the ‘70s and Pearl drew on Technicolor-era melodrama, MaXXXine revels in the excess of Reagan-era eighties Hollywood – ‘Morning in America’, as it was said – and in both script and imagery, MaXXXine is drenched in the headspace of that time period. West has recreated the fashions, locations and particular gaudiness of the time (special attention should be paid to Production Designer Jason Kisvarday, doing wonders here) on screen and has crafted his script to echo the concerns of the time as well, most notably the clash between the old-world conservatism of Reagan’s politics and the forward-march of sexual progress happening on the fringes of society. The choice of timeframe, with those specific concerns in mind, means MaXXXine is at least contextually fitting as a place for this story to end. West’s series has toyed with dual interests throughout – the relationship between pornography and the horror genre, and the relationship between stardom and violence – both of which seem apt for Reagan’s vision of a conservative capitalist utopia, and the dark consequences that lay beneath that vision. What West actually has to say about said themes, though, is hardly new. Indeed, much of the time, West seems content to simply point out those contrasts, rather than offer us some new perspective.

The third in Ti West’s surprisingly divisive horror-pastiche trilogy is also its weakest. Despite a committed performance from the ever-reliable Mia Goth, this starry, eighties-set entry is thin on substance, scares and satire. 

MaXXXine finds the sole survivor of the events of X, the wannabe pornstar Maxine Minx, having ascended to the higher echelons of Hollywood porn stardom. As Los Angeles cowers in fear at the looming threat of The Night Stalker, aka Richard Ramirez, the infamous Satan-worshipping serial killer, Maxine finds herself on the brink of crossover fame when she bags the part of a movie Scream Queen in the low-budget sequel to a horror film series called The Puritan II. That fame is threatened, however, as porn stars in her orbit begin going missing, only for their mutilated bodies to appear sometime soon after – all seemingly connected to her. If, like me, you rewatched X and Pearl prior to MaXXXine, there’s a jarring thrill to seeing Goth slide back into place as an older, tougher Maxine after playing the fragile, terrifying Pearl. Maxine is a badass, pure and simple; able to hold her own against creepy stalkers (as in a particularly squelchy sequence near the beginning of the film) or greasy Private Eyes (an exceptionally hammy but enjoyable Kevin Bacon) that have taken to following her for reasons unknown. As the film proceeds, though, very little changes for Maxine as a character, her progression frustratingly low on genuine change or discovery. Things, instead, just seem to happen to Maxine, an approach that renders MaXXXine something of a slog, instead of a thrill-ride.


Goth, while working hard to imbue depth and complexity to Maxine herself, can’t singlehandedly invest us in Maxine’s professional woes which, unfortunately, make up a large portion of the film’s runtime. Indeed, unlike the traditional slasher mode of X and the slow-burning unsettling funk of Pearl, MaXXXine often seems to forget that vital element that has made this series so popular – being scary. Large swathes of the film pass with no scares at all, preferring instead lengthy ho-hum conversations about the nature of stardom and Maxine’s place in the Hollywood food chain. It feels significant that Sam Levinson, of The Idol and Euphoria infamy, serves as an Executive Producer on MaXXXine, as he has on the previous iterations of this trilogy. There’s an air of smug shallowness that wafts off Levinson’s work that reverberates here, almost as though the series is doing an unearned victory lap, all the while forgetting just why audiences have embraced this series at all. The same overreaching luridness of Levinson’s work, with its gleeful excess of nudity and sex assuming an extremely sketchy mask of feminist liberation even as it gawks and drools over the bodies on display, carries over to this trilogy, and this film in particular, in spades. West seems to think he’s making something daring in his frank discussion and depiction of pornography, but he’s not really saying anything at all beyond metatextual winks to the camera – his assumption is that the mere presence of these characters and this world functions just as well as having a position on them.

At the premiere of MaXXXine, fake protestors were employed, decrying the film’s ‘shamefulness’ and blasphemy with feverish ardour. The fakery of it all acts as a surprisingly apt metaphor for MaXXXine itself. The film wants to be seen as something transgressive and outrage-inducing, but never makes any choices daring enough to warrant actual outrage. The retrofitting of bear-poking naughtiness never comes off as anything other than a calculated marketing ploy, not an actual attempt to meaningfully challenge the contradictions and blind-spots of organised religion, or to make an honest case for sex work as a valid way of life. All the while, West’s indulgences for pastiche run amok. References abound – to Argento and Fulci, De Palma and Hitchcock. The Psycho house, looming over a Hollywood backlot, plays a key part in the film’s action. Bacon’s Private Eye is intentionally dressed to look like Jack Nicholson in Chinatown. Actually daring, interesting filmmakers like Lizzie Borden are name-dropped, while more than once Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time… In Hollywood looms over the story so insistently one wonders if the auteur should seek royalties. The X series has none of Hitchcock or Tarantino’s capacity for genuine tension or dread, nor the political instincts of Borden or other filmmakers he obviously has on his vision board. It’s a shame, too, because West has always worked in B-Movie mimicry, to strong results in years past. For a glimpse of what could have been, seek out his superb debut, House of the Devil, also set in the eighties, which achieves everything of which MaXXXine falls short.

MAXXXINE is in cinemas now.



Movie title: MaXXXine (West, 2024)

Movie description: The third in Ti West’s surprisingly divisive horror-pastiche trilogy is also its weakest. Despite a committed performance from the ever-reliable Mia Goth, this starry, eighties-set entry is thin on substance, scares and satire.

Date published: July 11, 2024

Country: United States

Author: Ti West

Director(s): Ti West

Actor(s): Mia Goth, Elizabeth Debicki, Giancarlo Esposito, Charley Rowan McCain

Genre: Crime, Horror

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