MaXXXine is a sleazy slasher that brings the 1980s to life on the big screen

It was the horror trilogy that, not just for audiences, but also for creator Ti West, that was seemingly birthed out of nowhere. When X first splattered onto cinema screens, the end-credits teaser for the prequel Pearl (and proceeding success of that film) excitedly left only one question for horror fans – what happened next to Maxine Minx, the sole survivor of X’s blood-filled massacre?

It seems the question of what’s next for Maxine wasn’t only on the lips of fans, but sparked the curiosity of writer/director Ti West, and Maxine/Pearl actress Mia Goth, whose desire for more stylistic horror content, allowed them to flex their collective creative muscles for another unique and exciting entry into the X franchise with MaXXXine.

It’s 1985, and the United States is in the midst of satanic panic, where conservative Christian groups are protesting Hollywood, believing that the establishment responsible for the film and TV being consumed by the youth is run by devil-worshipping adulterers who want to brainwash their innocent children. All the while, taking up all the other fear-driven, prime-time news story slots, a serial killer known as the “Night Stalker”, is creating a state of fear for women all over Los Angeles as more and more are killed each week.

Meanwhile, years after climbing the ranks in the adult film industry, Maxine (Mia Goth) is just itching to finally make her break in Hollywood and fulfill her frequently repeated mantra: “I want to be a star.” Her break finally comes when she successfully auditions for a role in a new horror film, under the direction of Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki), a mentor figure who doesn’t shy away from exposing Maxine to the harsh realities of Hollywood, and what it truly takes to become a star.

However, when the heinous crimes of the Night Stalker hit a little to close to home for Maxine, and also needing an outlet to purge her anger and trauma caused by the events in Texas, she sets on a revenge-laden path to avenge her the death of her friends by night, and become a goddamn movie star by day.

Giving each film in this horror trilogy its own distinct aesthetic, reflective of the cinema in the era it’s set (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre grime of X and the technicolour wonder of Pearl as examples), Ti West’s film-grained, neon-lit, gritty, sleazy atmosphere for MaXXXine to pay homage to the noirs and slashers of the 1980s is arguable the star of the show.

There is a mesmerising nostalgia to West’s direction, but one that doesn’t shy away from the dirtiness of Hollywood’s underbelly. MaXXXine aesthetically feels like one of those movies that you shouldn’t be watching, but undoubtedly can’t look away from. Along with an incredible soundtrack, full of absolute bangers of the time, West’s ability to completely transport an audience into an era visually, whilst paying fantastic homage to the cinema of that time (with easter eggs galore for the cinephiles watching), is truly astounding. Even the practical effects when the gore and kills come into play have this toe-curling 80s vibe to it, with blood and guts galore.

It also seems like the success and adoration around X and Pearl made MaXXXine a hot property for actors to jump on board for, with a litany of characters in this story having their roles filled by actors who may seem unexpected for a film of this tone and nature. And while some a fleeting extended cameos that give this world a bit more substance, there’s not one actor on screen who doesn’t seem like they’re having a blast taking part in this twisted tale.

Michelle Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale are the driven detectives who play by their own rules. Halsey appears as one of Maxine’s close friends. Lily Collins is the “it” horror girl of the moment as the literal face of the movie franchise Maxine is joining. Giancarlo Esposito relishes in the 80s vibe playing Maxine’s adult film agent who is attempting to make himself “legit” by following Maxine on her Hollywood journey.

But the new addition to the cast who is a true standout and scene stealer is Kevin Bacon as John Labat, a private investigator who is as sleazy as they come, often bringing the biggest laughs when he appears on screen. Bacon’s demeanour, over-sized Khaki suit, and dirty, dirty moustache is the physical embodiment of a guy who is in way over his head with the case he is currently on but won’t let his cocky pride allow him to believe it.

As was the case with her turns in X and Pearl, Mia Goth embodies Maxine’s mantra – she is a goddamn star. Her tour de force performances in the previous two entries are only matched, if not topped, in MaXXXine. Not only is Goth a bad-ass who has some incredible moments during the film’s more gory scenes, but the underlying trauma of the Texas massacre, and her driven desire to be famous is never underplayed. Maxine is a character who plays with the archetypes of scream queen, but has so much more substance to her, which comes through West’s screenplay, and is brought to life with such power by Goth.

Maxine’s arc over X and MaXXXine is consistently fascinating. Watching the character develop over the two films is engaging and riveting. It is also the strongest element of the overall story, which unfortunately doesn’t feel as strong as the preceding films, arguably because it’s dealing with a lot more characters and far too many intertwining narratives to ever feel like it has as decisive and unique of voice as X or Pearl did.

Each part of the story feeds into other parts or payoffs later on in the film, but it can feel quite jumbled at times, with certain aspects feeling underwhelming or underdeveloped. This definitely affects the build up to the MaXXXine’s climax, which if this is the finale of the X trilogy, doesn’t pack as strong of a punch as one may wish it could have, even despite feeling like the satisfying narrative decision to conclude the story (for now…).

MaXXXine may not be the strongest entry in the X franchise, but a mesmerising 80s aesthetic from Ti West, along with a powerhouse performance from Mia Goth, and a truly entertaining cavalcade of new actors breathing life into this world, this is a sleazy slasher flick that is incredibly entertaining, and is a solid send-off for Maxine Minx… if this truly is the end.

MaXXXine is in cinemas July 11, courtesy of Universal Pictures.

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Nick L'Barrow
Nick L'Barrow
Nick is a Brisbane-based film/TV reviewer. He gained his following starting with his 60 second video reviews of all the latest releases on Instagram (@nicksflicksfix), before launching a monthly podcast with Peter Gray called Monthly Movie Marathon. Nick contributes to Novastream with interviews and reviews for the latest blockbusters.

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