Maxxxine (2024)

JUNE 24, 2024


Both Pearl and X were profitable if not exactly box office smashes, but that hasn’t stopped A24 from positing Maxxxine, the 3rd film in this unique trilogy, as a potential major hit. The big July release date (the other films were released in early Spring and Fall), the marketing campaign, the bigger budget (which means some bigger stars)… it’s likely the film’s opening weekend take is more than either of the other films mustered in their entire runs. I point that out because that means it’s very likely that some folks will see this movie without seeing the others, and I’m not sure that’s the best idea.

To be clear it’s fine if you skip Pearl, since it’s not about the same character (for the uninitiated, Pearl was a prequel about X’s killer), but X, in which we met Maxine (Mia Goth, who stars in all three films) herself and a lot about what made her tick, is in my opinion a crucial film to see before checking out this newest adventure. I don’t want to spoil the particulars, but it’s almost a certainty that the killer’s reveal won’t be satisfying without the context X provides. And the character of Maxine herself isn't exactly re-contextualized here, so knowing what she's all about and what she's been through already will be extremely helpful.

For those that have seen the others, this new entry continues the traditions they set of being set in different horror sub-genres. X was more or less a traditional slasher, and Pearl aimed for something that felt more at home in the “hagsploitation” genre (despite its younger lead character), but Maxxxine-which is set in 1985-is a straight up giallo/Brian De Palma type of thriller in the vein of Body Double or the more recent Knife + Heart. It’s a risky endeavor since the rule for sequels is “Do more of the same!” and these are all pretty different in terms of tone and look (and time period!), but it’s mostly paid off, so good for Ti West and his crew for a successful experiment. I may have issues with this film, but I hope it's a huge smash if only to see what a '90s version of Maxine would be up to and what style it'd ape. A Dimension homage?

Anyway, it’s several years after the events of X, and Maxine has made it to Hollywood. An opening audition scene proves to be fruitful and she lands her first legit gig: starring in a sequel to a cult classic possession horror called The Puritan. But she’s got a lot to prove, because she’s a (seemingly popular) porn star and the studio has some misgivings about casting her. Ultimately it’s the no-nonsense director Elizabeth Bender (played by Elizabeth Debicki; not sure if the very similar name was intentional) who goes to bat for her because she sees something in her. During these early scenes of Maxine prepping for the movie, we are told a few times that Bender is an ice queen, very demanding, etc. which seems to be setting up a sort of power struggle between these two strong women. And we also have a scene where Maxine is stalked by someone as she walks home from work only for her to turn the tables on him (in a most painful way involving her heels and the man’s… well, use your imagination). So it seems to be setting up a “Maxine once killed to survive but now she is killing to get ahead” kind of story, which would have been a full circle kind of thing with Goth's character in Pearl.

But weirdly, this idea is mostly dropped after a while; there’s one other instance of her “no one will get in my way” attitude regarding a private detective played by Kevin Bacon (who seems to know about her involvement in the X murders), but that’s about it. Bender’s supposed “I suffer no fools” reputation never really pays off; in fact at one point she even warmly suggests Maxine take the weekend off to have fun so she’d be less stressed for her return to work on Monday. It's an odd shift that the movie never really recovers from; the first hour is uneven but all forgiveable if it's going to build toward a knockout finale, but instead the third act almost seems grafted in from a different script entirely.

Basically, right around a crucial point where we need everything to start coming together, the movie’s other plot completely takes over and the whole “Maxine Does Hollywood” angle is mostly forgotten. As the movie is set in Los Angeles in 1985, those who know their true crime history can easily guess that the infamous Night Stalker plays a part in the film’s narrative; news reports constantly mention him, and two of Maxine’s friends from the industry end up being murdered in ways that seem like they’re his latest victims. But two cops played by Bobby Cannavale and Michelle Monaghan are convinced they were killed by a copycat instead, and after a third victim with ties to Maxine is discovered, they begin following her to see if she’s the killer or merely his next potential victim.

It's not a bad plot by any means, but it never quite gels with the themes and character arcs established by the other two films, as Maxine is almost incidental in this stuff and she could have been working as a waitress for all it mattered to the story (let's not forget that the Night Stalker's victims were all randomly chosen and not even really near Hollywood anyway). It ends up making Maxine more of a traditional would-be slasher movie victim at times; hell, she spends part of the climax tied to a tree! And since we know that Maxine is NOT the black gloved killer responsible for her friends’ deaths (the killer goes to see her perform in a nudie booth in the first reel), it never manages to be much of a mystery either, as only those who hadn't seen X wouldn't instantly guess who it was (and again, the movie doesn't do a very good job of filling those viewers in for the reveal).

In short, the movie seems like the result of two different ideas: a new entry in the X-iverse, and an ‘80s-set homage to giallo thrillers with the backdrop of a real life serial killer (think Spike Lee’s Summer of Sam, which was interestingly enough released 25 years ago almost to the day). And I’d be all for either idea, and to be fair I was never not entertained by the film nor did I find any one scene or character to be bad or a miscalculation or anything like that. But the two ideas never coincide in perfect harmony; the new serial killer plot distracts away from focusing on Maxine the fame-obsessed victim/killer and leaves her as another run of the mill horror movie heroine at times. It also makes the film feel a bit shaggy, which is perhaps the intention (Once Upon A Time in Hollywood feels like a potential influence as well; in fact they use the same Universal backlot set) but a marked departure from the tighter narratives of the other two films. Some characters, like Lily Collins as the other actress in The Puritan, basically only appear in a single scene, despite seeming like they'll play a bigger part in the proceedings.

For example: the aforementioned high heels scene. It’s a great scene! I winced at the denouement! But it also has no connection to anything else, nor is it mentioned again. Even with the subplot of the two cops who think she’s involved with some other murders, there’s never any “And where were you when this dude got his balls annihilated by someone matching your description?” type questioning. So the scene, while good, could have easily been removed without it affecting anything about the plot. OR it needed a few more instances like it to make it clear that Maxine is now a woman who will kill any perceived threat, which poses a problem when [whatever else happens]. Instead it just ends up feeling like filler. Entertaining filler, yes, but filler all the same.

It also seems to be missing a few bits of exposition at times. During the climax, the killer is seen to have a group of followers out of nowhere, and they also mention something like “These are the victims' family members!” Victims of who? The Night Stalker? Pearl/Maxine? I talked to someone later who was actually somewhat convinced that the Night Stalker and Maxine’s pursuer were one in the same; it was clear to me that they were not, but it was also so spottily conveyed that I’m not surprised that there was some confusion (I dread the takes from people who watch on streaming when they’re not even paying full attention). It’s amusing; my main complaint about some of West’s earlier films was that it felt like they had to be stretched to hit a bare minimum runtime, but the problem here is that it seemed like the movie needed another half hour to let some of its ideas come together.

Again though: it’s not a bad movie! Overall I enjoyed it, particularly the first hour. The recreation of ‘80s Hollywood is spot on and well thought out (personal fave touch: the tracking/warbling effect on the opening credits) and the soundtrack is recognizable without relying on the most overplayed hits like many ‘80s period pieces do. I loved how Maxine’s flashbacks play out like moments from a VHS tape, tapping into her psyche in ways a line of dialogue or something wouldn’t be as satisfying. And how can anyone on the planet dislike a movie where Kevin Bacon chases Mia Goth into the Psycho house (only to get caught by Larry Fessenden)? There’s a lot of really good stuff here and those who love “vibes horror” will absolutely love it. But I couldn’t help but think that if the script had better payoffs for some of the things that were set up (both in the previous films and in this one) that it easily could have been my favorite of the three. Maybe a director’s cut will resolve some of those issues, if there is one to be had. For now, I'd say as long as your expectations are kept in check (maybe impossible after all this pre-release hype), you'll have a good time and, like me, be interested in a possible fourth film when all is said and done.

What say you?

P.S. Since it’s set around the production of a horror movie and it’s 1985, a Fangoria popping up wasn’t too surprising but I did love that it was the one with Friday the 13th Part V on the cover. A little love for my man Roy is always good to see. And it's a bit of a tip of the hat, perhaps, as that film and this one deal with a new killer who is aping a more famous one.


Post a Comment

Movie & TV Show Preview Widget