Review: Ti West Concludes Horror Trilogy with MaXXXine, an Ensemble Piece Led by Mia Goth

Rounding out his horror trilogy, writer/director/editor Ti West (X, Pearl) brings us MaXXXine, following up on the adventures of adult film star Maxine Minx (Mia Goth) six years after that farm house massacre that was X. Set in 1985, the film finds Maxine in a place in her life where she’s looking to make the transition into mainstream Hollywood films, and as the film opens, she finds herself in her first audition for just such a movie, the horror sequel Puritan II. Her audition captures the attention of the film’s director Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki), who recognizes Maxine’s drive but makes it clear that she needs to eliminate all distractions from her life in order to be a part of her film.

It just so happens that while all of these changes are happening in Maxine’s life, the Night Stalker murders are making those who live in Los Angeles a little nervous, and even some of Maxine’s friends, including fellow porn actress Tabby (Halsey) are getting killed, presumably by said serial killer. A pair of detectives (Michelle Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale) bring Maxine in for questioning, but they’re also worried that she might be the killer’s next victim. But Maxine’s unhealthy lust for fame and fortune make her reckless. MaXXXine isn’t so much a peek behind the curtain of the mid-1980s adult film industry as it is a continuation of the filmmaker’s examination into the lengths people will go in order to become famous.

Unlike Pearl, which was an absolute showcase for Goth’s edgy acting talents, MaXXXine is more of an ensemble piece, which unfortunately means that Goth is pushed to the sidelines more often than I would have liked. Still, with a cast as good as this one, even when Goth isn’t on screen, there’s plenty to enjoy. Giancarlo Esposito plays Maxine’s agent, who clearly has criminal ties and no issues calling upon them to protect his client. Moses Sumney plays Leon, Maxine’s best friend and clerk at a local video store, which gives West the opportunity to have his characters indulge in lengthy conversations about movies. Kevin Bacon shows up, with an obnoxious New Orleans accent, as private investigator John Labat, who has been hired by an unknown client to track down Maxine for unknown purposes, although he seems to know a great deal about her time at the farm house six years prior.

The best scenes in MaXXXine are between Debicki and Goth, as Elizabeth dares Maxine to work the hardest she’s ever worked and leave the vices of the adult film industry behind. In a time when female directors were exceedingly rare, Elizabeth’s wisdom is hard earned. But Maxine is a tough cookie too, as we see when someone attempts to attack her in an alley and she deals with them in about as brutal a way possible. Still, as the film begins to spill its secrets and the client looking for Maxine reveals himself and his intentions, MaXXXine become less interesting and more of a standard-issue chase movie, peppered with cultish undertones that we’ve seen in dozens of other films. 

With that being said, the soundtrack for the movie is exceptional, opting for less-familiar but still killer 1980s tunes, and the way West and his production designers set the context for the time and place (with references to the PMRC’s push for labeling on albums, satanic panic, Reagan-era conservatism, and, of course, the Night Stalker) makes the film feel authentic as a period work. The weakest of the three films, MaXXXine still has its moments and it still has Goth as an older, more bitter and more savage version of her now signature character, which is more than most horror franchises these days.

The film is now in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.