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  • Benjamin May

MaXXXine (2024) Review

With 2022’s ‘X’ and ‘Pearl,’ Ti West created two extremely entertaining, wickedly clever horror comedies, honouring two specific types of films. ‘X’ is a homage to- and pastiche of- 1970’s grindhouse tropes, most obviously ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,’ while ‘Pearl’ is a like a warped, 1950’s Technicolour melodrama, like the cinematic child of Walt Disney and Dario Argento. Both films are prime examples of satire, successfully implementing elements of the object they are satirising without becoming that object themselves.

With ‘MaXXXine,’ the newest addition to the ‘X’ franchise, West aims to send-up giallo and exploitation films of the late 70’s, as well as the video nasties of the 1980’s and Hollywood set slashers in general. Taking place in 1985, six years after the events of the original, the film follows Maxine Minx, who is trying to make a go of it in the pictures. After landing her big break, she is blackmailed by someone threatening to reveal her participation in the 1979 massacre. Meanwhile, the Nightstalker roams the streets, and Maxine’s friends are dropping like flies. Will Maxine finally become a star, or be forced to live a life she doesn’t deserve?

Enjoyable though narratively uneven, visually, ‘MaXXXine’ dazzles, recreating the neon-soaked decadence of mid-1980’s Los Angeles. However, beneath its glossy surface lies a narrative that lacks the bite, wit and unpredictability of its predecessors. Although entertaining, at times the film threatens to become that which it is satirising- a schlocky Hollywood slasher. West incorporates many familiar elements of 80’s movies- bickering cops, an over-the-top villain, a seedy P.I., shootouts- but these seem more like cliches than effective satire, as their inclusion lacks any kind of fresh spin or commentary.

In ‘X’ and ‘Pearl,’ every detail was meticulously calculated, purposefully included to heighten the emotion of any given scene. Here, it feels as if West tossed in tropes just for kicks, leaving one wondering about their purpose. Effective satire dances on the edge, teasing its subjects without falling into their traps; ‘MaXXXine’ wobbles- sometimes clever, other times clumsy. Perhaps West’s intention was to blur the line between homage and parody. But in doing so, he risks losing the very essence that made his earlier films shine.

Additionally, supporting characters are underwritten, lacking depth or personality. There are no reasons to care for any of them, as the majority aren’t on screen for long enough to leave any kind of impact. Those that are start off as cliches- a no-nonsense director, a lascivious Southerner, two cardboard cut out cops- and then proceed not to change. Considering West’s brilliant characterisation in previous films, it’s rather disappointing.

As is the exceedingly underwhelming final act, which boils down to a forgettable gunfight. Moreover, the identity of the villain will only come as a surprise to someone who has never seen a film before. Conversely, the character of Maxine Minx is still compelling; her determination, resilience and unwavering pursuit of stardom keeps one engaged. She’s an unstoppable force, refusing to fade into the shadows, that one cannot help but root for.

Furthermore, West and cinematographer Eliot Rockett do sterling work, emphasising the seediness of the City of Angles, where devils prowl down grimy alleyways. Moreover, they cleverly weave video aesthetics into the fabric of the film itself. Grain dances across the screen, a nod to VHS tapes and late-night cable channels, while de-focused shots blur the line between reality and fantasy, hinting at Maxine’s hidden past. It’s a visual language that speaks to those who remember tracking lines and rewinding cassettes, compounding the film’s heady atmosphere.

In addition, Jason Kisvarday’s detailed production design is successful at immersing the viewer in the ostentatious 1980’s, where everything was bigger and brighter than before or after. Mari-An Ceo’s costume design, alongside Kelsi Ephraim's set decoration, contributes to this immersive effect, while Tyler Bates’ evocative, synthesised score wouldn’t feel out of place in an 80’s Brian DePalma or J. Lee Thompson vehicle, and the soundtrack- making great use of tracks from the likes of ZZ Top and Kim Carnes- is stirring.

Mia Goth’s commanding central performance as Maxine is where the film’s greatest strength lies. As in her two previous collaborations with West, her intrepid character shows through clearly. Goth is not afraid to go all out and risk being called over-the-top. Surely, after all, with material like this, she’s meant to be grandiose? Even in it’s weakest moments, Goth keeps ‘MaXXXine’ from becoming uninteresting; remaining a pivotal figure in modern horror cinema.

Opposite her, Kevin Bacon is excellent as the aforementioned sleazy, Southern P.I., making a one-note character arguably the most entertaining in the picture. Elizabeth Debicki does assured work as the director who gives Maxine her big break, though the role doesn’t give her much to work with. Giancarlo Esposito is clearly having a ball in the all-too small part of Maxine’s agent, while Michelle Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale are all but wasted as the cops; getting nothing to do but doing it well.

Ti West’s ‘MaXXXine’ is an entertaining comic-horror, but lies in the shadow of its predecessors, which were considerably more cohesive, original and accomplished. Despite striking visuals and a stirring score, its narrative underwhelms, teetering between clever and clunky. Although Mia Goth and her supporting cast- most notably Kevin Bacon- do strong work, unfortunately ‘MaXXXine’ falls short of exxxcellent.


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