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Movies & TV

04th Jul 2024

One of the coolest trilogies ever closes out with stylish new thriller movie

Stephen Porzio

It’s one of the most anticipated films of the year.

For many horror movie fans, the release of the new film MaXXXine has been the most anticipated event on the cinematic calendar.

After all, it is writer-director Ti West’s follow-up to his 2022 slasher X and its prequel Pearl – two of the coolest movies of recent years.

X introduced us to the character of Maxine Minx (Mia Goth in a breakthrough role), a fame hungry porn star in the late ’70s who, along with her friends, finds herself the target of a sinister elderly couple (one of whom was also played by Goth in old-age make-up).

This was because Maxine and co used the couple’s farm to film an adult movie.

Sort of a cross between Boogie Nights and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, X was a hit with critics and at the box office. It was swiftly followed up with Pearl, which went back in time to tell the story of Maxine’s attacker – the titular character – as a similarly fame-obsessed young woman.

This time feeling like a mix of the Kansas scenes in The Wizard of Oz with a villain origin story comparable to Joker, Pearl was also rapturously received – with some even considering it an improvement on its predecessor.

As such, we now have MaXXXine – a trilogy capper which functions as a direct sequel to X, this time switching up the tone to that of a sleazy ’80s erotic thriller.

It picks up with Maxine Minx six years later in 1985 Los Angeles.

Eager to leave pornography behind and become a Hollywood star, she lands a lead role in The Puritan II, a horror sequel being helmed by an ambitious British filmmaker (an effortlessly commanding Elizabeth Debicki). The director is taken with Maxine’s sense of authenticity and raw star power.

Threatening the actress’ big break, however, is The Night Stalker, a serial killer who begins targeting those close to Maxine, as well as a sleazy PI (Kevin Bacon, nearly stealing the show looking like Jake Gittes from Chinatown broke bad) who starts blackmailing Maxine and appears to be in the employ of said murderer.

The big question right off the bat is: does MaXXXine stick the landing for Ti West’s X trilogy? We’d argue yes, mostly.

For one, it’s clear to see that West was given more resources to play with for the third film. While X and Pearl were mostly one-location thrillers, MaXXXine takes place across a stunningly-rendered ’80s LA – complete with a theatre marquee devoted to St. Elmo’s Fire, as well as scenes set on the Universal Studios backlot where Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho – the definitive proto-slasher – was filmed.

In West’s intoxicating portrait of the city, the divide between the glamour of Hollywood and its dark and twisted underbelly feels at its best, incredibly liminal and at its worst, almost non-existent.

As well as this, the writer-director packs the cast with incredible actors – all of which are having fun. There’s also Bobby Cannavale and Michelle Monaghan’s bickering detectives, Lily Collins as Maxine’s sweet but self-absorbed co-star, Sophie Thatcher as a kind make-up artist on The Puritan II and Giancarlo Esposito as Maxine’s agent and ally – with the latter looking glad to be getting to do more than just portray elegant but sinister figures on prestige TV.

Like its predecessors, however, the star of the show is Goth whose alternating between embodying Maxine’s brash self-confidence – she is one of the few horror protagonists who actively runs towards danger – as well as her moments of insecurity and vulnerability, make the character so compelling and likeable.

For about 3/4 of its runtime, MaXXXine is as good and maybe even better than X and Pearl – boasting incredible vibes, starling imagery, shocking moments of violence and a very intriguing central mystery as to the identity of the Night Stalker.

That said, the film’s final act revelations wind up feeling surprisingly predictable. Plus, the way in which West stages the climactic sequence and its resulting fallout strains credulity, even for a slasher flick.

Also, on first viewing, it feels like MaXXXine has less to say than X and Pearl – basically making the points over and over again that being successful in Hollywood requires a ruthlessness and also that the censorship of cinema for puritanical reasons is often absurd and misguided.

It’s worth noting though that X and Pearl proved rewarding on rewatches and its likely MaXXXine will too, if only just to savour the stellar performances and its stylish evocation of ’80s LA.

MaXXXine lands in cinemas on Friday, 5 July.

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