Skip to main content

MaXXXine review: a bold, absorbing horror adventure

Mia Goth points a gun in MaXXXine.
“There has never been a movie like MaXXXine, and there likely never will be again.”
  • Mia Goth's transformative, beautifully muted star performance
  • Ti West's propulsive editing and direction
  • Eliot Rockett's '80s Hollywood-inspired cinematography
  • An overstuffed screenplay
  • Several superfluous, forgettable supporting characters
  • An uneven balance of comedy and drama throughout

MaXXXine plays by its own rules. The third — and likely final — chapter in director Ti West and star Mia Goth’s X trilogy is a hodgepodge of recognizable genres and tropes, a Frankensteinian hybrid of influences that should not go together. Quentin Tarantino would be proud. The film picks back up with Maxine Minx, Goth’s final girl from X, but gone is the late-1970s seediness of that 2022 slasher flick. In its place, West has opted for an even meaner, more cynical perverseness that suits MaXXXine‘s 1985 Hollywood setting like a black leather glove. This isn’t West’s Texas Chain Saw Massacre or Wizard of Oz. It’s Mulholland Drive as directed by Brian De Palma.

Unlike in David Lynch’s 2001 masterpiece, the horrors lurking around MaXXXine‘s L.A. street corners and in its labyrinthine hills are immediately identifiable. They’re not specters of untold origin or purpose. They’re serial killers, lecherous detectives, and reactionary Bible thumpers riding a wave of Satanic panic. Think Buster Keaton cosplayers wielding switchblades. If that suggests a slightness, that’s because MaXXXine is a decidedly shallow exercise — even by its trilogy’s standards — in cinematic pastiche. It feels less complete than Pearl, West’s X prequel. It’s also more purely fun and entertaining than both earlier films.

Mia Goth walks across a studio parking lot in MaXXXine.
Don Lens / A24

MaXXXine opens with its scrappy protagonist getting the big break she’s long desired. After moving to Los Angeles and making a living starring in adult films, Maxine gets cast in The Puritan II, a sequel to a schlocky horror B-movie directed by the equally ambitious Elizabeth Bender (a commanding, icy Elizabeth Debicki). Her chance at Hollywood stardom is threatened, though, by the ongoing murders of the serial killer known as the Night Stalker and by untimely reminders of the blood-soaked Texas nightmare she survived in X. Whereas Goth’s Pearl was haunted to the point of madness by the future she knew deep down she’d never have, Maxine is plagued by everything she’s survived. The character is older and quieter than she was in X. Goth carries herself in such a way that you can feel Maxine’s early-30s desperation and her fear that her dreams won’t come true sticking to her like layers of sweat.

The actress functions as the point of gravity around which everything in MaXXXine revolves. West, who wrote, directed, and edited the film himself, surrounds her with more eccentric characters than he knows what to do with. There’s Leon (Moses Sumney), a horror-obsessed video store clerk; John Labat (Kevin Bacon), a Southern private detective with a perpetually broken nose; and Detectives Torres (Bobby Cannavale) and Williams (a wasted Michelle Monaghan), a pair of hard-nosed L.A. cops. Through MaXXXine‘s supporting characters, West finds different ways to pay homage to the ’80s L.A. movies that he clearly loves, but his admirable intentions don’t always produce worthwhile results. Monaghan and Cannavale’s detectives seem particularly out of place in a film that is already overstuffed and unsure of what comedic or dramatic note to strike with them.

The film finds greater success in the characters that are more keyed into its heightened sense of savage humor, like Molly Bennett (a scene-stealing Lily Collins), the hyper, quick-to-give-advice original star of The Puritan; Teddy Knight (Giancarlo Esposito), Maxine’s silver-haired, mobster-esque agent; and Debicki’s no-nonsense Elizabeth. They fit well within a film that is well-paced and feels — for both better and worse — like it was constructed without any concerns about its audience’s expectations. As much of an amalgamation as it is of other movies, MaXXXine could have only been born out of West and Goth’s unique partnership, which has now produced three films that have felt progressively less bound by standard genre conventions.

Giancarlo Esposito and Mia Goth stand in a junkyard together in MaXXXine.
Justin Lubin / A24

In Pearl, West and Goth combined the aesthetic of a 1940s and ’50s family film with the unvarnished story of a young girl losing her mind. The result was a one-of-a-kind surrealist horror movie that managed to tap into the sense of hopelessness and frustration that has long been lurking beneath America’s technicolor surface. MaXXXine, conversely, isn’t as scary or viscerally upsetting as Pearl, nor does it feel as formally bracing. Eliot Rockett’s grainy, alternately sun-soaked and neon-lit cinematography convincingly recreates the look of the mid-’80s films that inspired MaXXXine. West, meanwhile, fills it with De Palma-esque Steadicam one-shots of characters moving breathlessly from one place to another and close-ups of knives slashing.

These stylistic choices inject West’s X sequel with a propulsive, kinetic energy that keeps it alive and pulsing even in its least effective moments. There is, however, a disconnect between MaXXXine‘s style and its story that not only separates it from Pearl, but prevents it from matching that film’s power. West is knowingly pulling from the L.A. crime thrillers and lurid slasher movies of the 1980s here, but MaXXXine isn’t either of those things. It’s not a straightforward horror film, though there are numerous moments of practically rendered butchery, and it also isn’t a hard-boiled crime movie. The film’s aesthetic, therefore, doesn’t enhance through reinforcement nor juxtaposition Maxine’s almost-hero’s journey tale of redemption and growth.

The movie is ultimately indefinable, and when it works, that feels intentional. When it doesn’t, it feels like West was simply overwhelmed by the sheer breadth of visual and cultural material that MaXXXine‘s setting gave him. The film feels both emptily derivative and singular. Horror fans who go into it expecting to have their hunger for another bloody slasher thriller fully sated will be disappointed. There has never been a movie like MaXXXine before, though, and there never will be again. It’s exhilarating to watch it march so steadily to the beat of its own, predictably synth soundtrack — even when you do also find yourself yearning for it to give you something more substantial to hold on to.

A woman walks the red carpet and blows a kiss.

During a mid-film golf cart ride with Goth’s Maxine, Debicki’s Elizabeth calls The Puritan II a “B-movie with A+ ideas.” It’s a catchy pitch, but one that doesn’t quite fit MaXXXine. The movie is too indulgent and superficial, and its themes too explicit. A better description might be a “B-movie executed with A-grade style.” It’s a trashy affair — a pop horror comedy that uses Hollywood’s past as a backdrop for its heroine’s unlikely ascension, but that has little to say about its many references. Fortunately, depth isn’t the only determining factor of success in Hollywood. A film must also have the belief and confidence in itself that’s necessary to make everyone else pay attention, and that’s something MaXXXine has in spades.

MaXXXine hits theaters on July 5.

Alex Welch
Alex is a TV and movies writer based out of Los Angeles. In addition to Digital Trends, his work has been published by…
Pearl review: a star is born (and is very, very bloody)
Mia Goth stares at the camera in the poster for Pearl.

Pearl is a candy-coated piece of rotten fruit. The film, which is director Ti West’s prequel to this year's X, trades in the desaturated look and 1970s seediness of its parent film for a lurid, Douglas Sirk-inspired aesthetic that seems, at first, to exist incongruently with its story of intense violence and horror. But much like its titular protagonist, whose youthful beauty and Southern lilt masks the monster within, there’s a poison lurking beneath Pearl’s vibrant colors and seemingly untarnished Depression-era America setting.

Set around 60 years before X, West’s new prequel does away with the por nstars, abandoned farms, and eerie old folks that made its predecessor’s horror influences clear and replaces them with poor farmers, charming film projectionists, and young women with big dreams. Despite those differences, Pearl still feels like a natural follow-up to X. The latter film, with its use of split screens and well-placed needle drops, offered a surprisingly dark rumination on the horror of old age. Pearl, meanwhile, explores the loss of innocence and, in specific, the often terrifying truths that remain after one’s dreams have been unceremoniously ripped away from them.

Read more
A24 to hold auditions for extra role in Ti West’s MaXXXine
Mia goth holds a pitchfork over her head in a scene from Pearl.

Do you have the "X" factor and want to play a role in a horror movie? A24 announced a casting call to be in Ti West's new film, MaXXXine. Fans can be an extra, or as A24 writes, "eXtra," in the third film of West's X trilogy.

To audition, fans must recreate the standoff between Pearl and Maxine (both played by Mia Goth) from X, which you can watch below. Auditioners will play both roles in the scene. Once completed, submit the tape by uploading the video to Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok using the hashtag, #XCastingCall. Submissions close September 28 at 11:59 p.m. ET.

Read more
Speak No Evil review: the horror of holding your tongue
Morten Burian and Sidsel Siem Koch scream inside a car.

Horror movies, even the very good ones, have a way of turning their audiences into backseat survivors: “Get out of the house already!” we scream at characters too stubborn or stupid to acknowledge the warning signs around them. It can be part of the communal fun of the genre, pleading aloud for the people on screen to get in touch with their self-preservation instincts.

Viewers will likely have some choice words (or maybe just groans) for the slow-to-flee characters of Speak No Evil. Here, the imperiled — a Danish family enduring a nightmare weekend in the Dutch boonies — actually do make the decision to get the hell out of dodge. Alas, they only go a couple of miles down the road before putting the car in reverse, their escape aborted upon the discovery that a beloved toy has been left behind. What’s more exasperating than someone refusing to get out of the house? How about watching them get out of the house, change their mind, and step right back into it?

Read more