In MaXXXine, Mia Goth is a Star in Waiting, Stalked by a Killler; Both Actress and Character Deserve Better

The amiable, confident Goth works hard to keep Ti West’s curiously slack slasher watchable, but its sometimes effective pieces fail to coalesce into a compelling story.

8 mins read

A few months ago, Ti West’s MaXXXine dropped a ripping good trailer promising the lurid thrills of adult film actress Maxine Minx (Mia Goth), stalked by a Hollywood slasher in a perfectly recreated 1985 Tinseltown milieu. But the film’s arrival proves a disappointment, West making good on an era-perfect construction but failing to bring his stalk-slash-sleaze epic’s story to life. This despite the amiable, confident Goth, who gives a striking performance and like Maxine herself, one boldly announcing her intention to break into the industry A-list. She’s got the goods, and works hard to keep West’s curiously slack slasher watchable. 

Next to 2022 predecessors X, which introduced Maxine and a band of rural Texas adult filmmakers on the chopping block, and Pearl, a fever dream of down home psychosis about a repressed farm girl-wannabe movie star, MaXXXine ranks near the trilogy’s bottom in terms of imagination and tension. It has the right pieces—Goth, convincing setting, capable cast, technical command—but they don’t coalesce into a compelling story as much as one with too many digressions that diffuse its narrative drive.

Picture opens strongly as Maxine, a recognizable porn star of some success, auditions for a mainstream studio horror picture named The Puritan II, a gothic, Hammer-esque B-movie from no-nonsense director Elizabeth Bender (a fine Elizabeth Debicki). Goth’s forthrightness in delivering Maxine’s killer audition (which will come as no surprise to those who saw her masterful Pearl monologue) is sensational, a new star on the rise playing a new star trying to rise.

News reports of the “Night Stalker” abound, and Hollywood Boulevard (lovingly recreated in 1985 neon, movie theaters, pizza joints and video stores) isn’t safe for the sidewalk’s coked up starlets. While Maxine’s gal pals, including a cameo from pop star Halsey, keep heading up to “the hills” for mysterious producer parties, women are getting fatally slashed. And this slasher quickly develops a creepy fixation on Maxine, following her around and dropping VHS tapes at her doorstep. Soon Maxine’s friends—including best buddy and video store clerk Leon (Moses Sumner)—are in grave danger. The victims,  branded with a pentagram, are all closely connected to Maxine. Is she next?

You can guess where this is going—Maxine, while trying to get her footing in her first big movie break, is also trying to stay alive, and sooner or later she’ll come face to face with the killer, a confrontation staple of every slasher picture and here culminating (wouldn’t you know it) at the Hollywood sign. But getting there is a real slog in a meandering movie that fails to build tension or hold interest; it is too much yet not enough and its pieces don’t add up.

At one key juncture, Maxine watches a mysterious tape appearing to reveal the grisly fates of two friends, yet later she seems shocked to learn of their murders.  At another, Maxine dispassionately participates in the execution of a sleaze ball low-life, which seems oddly out of character despite her sordid X flashbacks. And just when MaXXXine should be ramping up its “final girl” confrontation with the killer, it veers into climactic absurdity with a reveal that is, frankly, ludicrous and laughable.

There’s too much going on in MaXXXine (it should be 85 minutes but it’s stretched out to 100) yet little tension between Maxine and its stalker, and consequently their showdown feels half-hearted. The Hollywood bimbo killer picture has been done numerous times before, including memorably in Gary Sherman’s gritty 1982 thriller Vice Squad and again in 1983’s teen prostitute potboiler Angel, but West’s movie doesn’t have the pared down, brass tacks exploitation genes of those B-movie classics. 

Instead, there are plenty of padded out shenanigans, including an enthusiastic Kevin Bacon as a wily underworld operator, a bit of verisimilitude as Bacon cut his teeth on 1980’s seminal slasher Friday the 13th. Bacon goes very large here, turning up the sleaze and nearly outsizing the film. His character’s agenda is never quite clear, but its emphasis derails the Night Stalker horror plot. 

West has assembled a top flight cast—Debicki, Bacon, Giancarlo Esposito as Maxine’s entertainment lawyer and agent (can one be both?), Bobby Cannavale and Michelle Monaghan as beat detectives on the case, Lily Collins as a supportive co-star, Sophie Thatcher as a make-up effects artist—but strangely the writer-director gives none of them, save Bacon, anything much to do. While it is commercially clear why each would want to appear in a hit horror series, it isn’t clear why none saw the shallowness on the page. That page also cheats Goth out of a full bodied character, and despite her best efforts, we are never sure whether hellcat Maxine is earnest, duplicitous, innocent or conniving; the contradictions are messy.

Credit production designer Jason Kisvardy, costume designer Marie-An Ceo and cinematographer Eliot Rockett for MaXXXine’s impeccable, enjoyably retro 80s look and feel and to West for selecting classic 80s musical cuts from Animotion to Frankie Goes to Hollywood to a fun, 80s soundtrack instrumental lift near the picture’s end, one which decade enthusiasts should instantly recognize. And the make-up effects team, which built a splendid mold of Goth’s head as well as convincingly staged several bloody mutilations (including one sure to send men in the audience into convulsions), understood the assignment and delivered. This is all commendable, but without a compelling story it’s a stylistic netherworld of elements lovingly assembled in service of little.  

Goth, a sensational actress who has really shown her stuff across West’s trilogy and in 2023’s Infinity Pool, has been her filmmaker’s muse and proven herself a fearless performer. Like her talented character Maxine, she deserves much better career opportunities than what she has been given. Throughout MaXXXine, a mantra is repeated: “I will not accept a life I do not deserve.”  It is West’s best idea here, and it should have been explored.

It’s also one that Goth should consider in picking her next role. 

2 stars

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.