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Maxxxine (2024) Review

From the grindhouse style of X (2022) to the technicolor nightmare that was Pearl (2022), it’s clear Ti West’s X trilogy has been a fun, inventive vehicle for celebrating the history of the horror genre; and that’s no different in this epic finale. Drawing heavily from Giallo influences, this latest installment is a direct sequel to the events in X, but you don’t need to have seen it to follow this new storyline. Maxine is now a pornstar trying to make it big in Hollywood, and may have finally hit her big break—until a series of grisly murders digs up ghosts from her past. If she wants to survive and fulfill her dreams, she’ll have to face the skeletons in her closet and find who’s killing her friends before they can get to her. While I found it to be a great time and a fairly thought-provoking watch, it is funny how this film also has many of the same flaws I noticed in classic Giallo films, only with less visual panache.

It's not that I expected a slasher flick to have the best writing I've seen all year, but even then I found some of the outright gestures toward Hitchcock blonds, classic horror and cinematic history to be a bit on the nose, even by these standards. Whereas the essence of certain eras seemed baked into the very DNA of X and Pearl, Maxxxine uses the 80s more like vacuous set dressing, gestured toward with clips of Reagan and some cool needle drops but never really engaged with. This film had a lot to say about trauma and the film industry, but I don't think those dots were ever connected in a cohesive way that actually said something. This bleeds into other areas of the writing, like characters who are killed off before they could actually contribute something to the narrative beyond being a mere plot device, alongside one of the most anticlimactic chase scenes you'll ever see. These issues of underwriting are, of course, par for the course with horror films, and Giallo has historically been a sloppily-written sub-genre, but I've come to expect more after the last two installments in this trilogy, which leads me to the visuals.

While there are certainly a few scenes where cinematographer Eliot Rockett leaned into the expressive qualities of Giallo, it'd have been great if the film foregrounded this aesthetic a lot more. Giallo titans like Mario Bava and Dario Argento were making such visually inventive choices with how they'd shape the light in their films, and I think bringing some of those techniques into this production process would've elevated the filmic language. That being said, the camera movements are very sharp and do a great job of managing tension as well as keeping us locked into a specific character's perspective. The soundtrack is exactly what you'd expect from a movie based in the 1980s, but the score is full of interesting surprises, using dissonance in creative ways to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Despite its shortcomings, I think what really makes this movie work is the acting.

It's fair to say Mia Goth is the best actress working in horror right now, and it's not even close. The commitment she brings to this role is thunderous, embodying Maxine with a ferocious quality, making it clear she'll do anything to get ahead. Kevin Bacon also does a wonderful job playing a southern private detective, really hamming up the performance into something that's just loads of fun. The entire cast does a great job of adding layers of humor and humanity to their roles. We aren't watching cardboard cutouts, but are instead witnessing nuanced characters moving through the world. With them onscreen, it's a joy to watch.

Messy writing, heavyhanded intertextuality, brutal killings. In so many ways, Maxxxine stays true to its Giallo roots even in its flaws; and I think that's what makes it such a fun movie. Ti West never does anything unforgivable, and his enthusiasm for both this story and character ooze through in almost every scene. It's not a perfect movie, and might even fall short in comparison to the other films in this trilogy, but it is damn good fun and will keep people talking long after the credits roll. Maxxxine is in theatres today, and I hope you see it this weekend! We should applaud directors swinging this big!


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