Hollywood movies

‘MaXXXine’ review: A massive disappointment that not even Mia Goth can save

Ryan Oquiza

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‘MaXXXine’ review: A massive disappointment that not even Mia Goth can save

MAXXXINE. Mia Goth stars in the horror film.

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'MaXXXine' is frustrating because it rehashes the themes of the past two films, stripping them of all subtlety without even being remotely scary

In my defense of X, the first film of this Mia Goth-tinged horror trilogy, I lauded its pornstar-studded story of young misfits shooting X-rated content at a 1970s farmhouse as actually being a critique of American conservatism, its prudishness and hypocrisy — however crude or uneven it may seem at times.

It’s scary because its veiled Christian undertones work. The film suggests that forcibly repressing sexual desires, no matter how old or young, can become a live wire sparking toward combustion, yet its subtlety is key, sheathing its themes underneath horror collateral, thereby allowing the most basic of carnal desires seem so repulsive while still imploring confrontation with uneasy truths. Beyond its adult content, X is a dissection of the impulses driving “outcasts” to seek freedom through sexual expression and rebellion. 

Then comes its prequel, Pearl, set in 1918, offering a well-acted, smaller-scale, and isolated origin story. Pearl, the villain in X, starts out as an innocent girl who then defies her rural and religious background. Her desire to be a “star” is seen as a manifestation of progressive aspirations, and is therefore villainized, chastised as the work of the devil. While there is no doubting Pearl’s psychopathic nature, her alienation still echoes the flames of the worst conservatism has to offer: gaslighting, moral shaming, and emotional manipulation — all at her expense.

What sinister secrets does MaXXXine unravel about conservatism next? Apparently, not much at all. Religious extremism and the fervor of cults are evil. Being a star in Hollywood is actually bad, but also, sometimes, good? And saving your friends from a serial killer is, shockingly, a noble thing to do. MaXXXine is frustrating because it rehashes the themes of the past two films, stripping them of all subtlety without even being remotely scary.

‘MaXXXine’ review: A massive disappointment that not even Mia Goth can save

Fortunately, the film begins with its best scene. It’s an audition from Maxine Minx for an upcoming B-horror movie with “A-movie ideas.” After being burnt out from the porn industry and wanting a big break for herself, Maxine gives it her all at the colossal Warner Bros.’ Stage 15 lot in Burbank. Mia Goth, as usual, bestows a gift of a performance. A master of vivid expression and balanced intensity, she clearly carries through from her previous tour de force in Pearl.

Maxine impresses Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki), a hotshot female director who takes her craft seriously and is sought after by actors — almost to the point of parody. She’s a “don’t waste my time” figure, stern and overly self-serious, as if she belongs in a different movie. Shortly thereafter, Maxine is hunted by the mysterious Night Stalker, who, if the film’s many irritating news segments would have you believe, is the devil incarnate, a grisly serial killer with mysterious motives.

Joining the film’s already bloated cast of characters are Giancarlo Esposito as Maxine’s lawyer, Kevin Bacon as a private investigator also on the hunt for Maxine, and Moses Sumney as Leon, Maxine’s gay best friend. Homicide detectives, played by Bobby Cannavale and Michele Monaghan, also close in on Maxine as the Night Stalker begins taking victims conspicuously close to her.

This is a cluttered mess. There are so many branching storylines that the film ends up using flashbacks to X to find a way to connect it all. And it isn’t just that; the film uses flashbacks of scenes that happened a mere 30 minutes ago to remind you of character motivations and goals, just in case you might have missed them amidst the labyrinth of other things the script has going on.

Director Ti West, who also serves as the film’s editor, has moments of both genius and folly. In a scene that gives a nod to Dario Argento (director of the original Suspiria), someone dies under neon red-and-blue lighting with such in-your-face, flesh-letting gore that it evokes a charming sense of artistry. But on the other hand, West also directs a scene near the end of the film that feels more suited to a Bad Boys: Ride or Die-esque action movie than a horror film.

Mia Goth, the star anchoring this franchise, is given very little to do. She is, to use online gaming parlance, nerfed in this grand threequel finale. There is a very oft-used phrase, “Bigger isn’t always better,” and while that might be incongruous to the sausage-filled porn industry, it most certainly rings true in this film. X and Pearl were each made for $1 million, but the budget was never an impediment. In MaXXXine, it seems the bigger price tag created a pressure to embody loftier stakes and more storylines, to the detriment of the film.

There is so much wrong with the film’s penultimate reveal, something I will not spoil here, except to say that it is underwhelming and completely jumps the shark. In the first place, why must there be a serial killer? That ill-fated addition distracts from the horrors of Hollywood that the film seemed to be setting up. Perhaps MaXXXine wants to retain the previous films’ crusade against conservatives, hence the movement against so-called “unchristian-like” values in media through protests and those annoying news segments.

But, as a result, it turns them into caricatures, clichés that treat their villainy as buffoonish rather than inescapable and deep-rooted threats. Maybe instead of serial killers, they could have made their presence known through, I don’t know, rabid conservative producers, sexist actors, and controlling, dictatorial directors — things about 1980s Hollywood for which we have plenty of real-life evidence to draw from. This film blatantly ignores these issues for the sake of babying the image of the film industry.

This may not mean much, but there aren’t many iconic moments in this film. X and Pearl thrived on creating “moments” that burned themselves into your mind: the sex scene involving septuagenarians, the “I’m a star” explosion from Mia Goth, and the long-winded monologue that leads into the uncomfortable stare down while the credits roll in Pearl. The most memorable moment comes not in the film, but during its red carpet premiere, when Goth, with a jubilant “uhm,” swiftly shifts to a thousand-yard stare, allowing the silence to fill in the awkwardness.

MaXXXine, therefore, loses the teeth that sharpened the fangs of its predecessors. Without the sharpness of its commentary, we turn to its horror, and even that isn’t satisfactory. It’s not good as a serial killer movie. Not good as a feminist revenge thriller. Not good as a scintillating scare flick, and not even useful as an acting vehicle for Mia Goth, and so this is really just a nothingburger of a movie. It’s a good thing we have another serial killer film, Longlegs, releasing next week. Hopefully, that one is better. – Rappler.com

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Ryan Oquiza

Ryan Oquiza is a film critic for Rappler and has contributed articles to CNN Philippines Life, Washington City Paper, and PhilSTAR Life.