Credit: Justin Lubin/A24
by Matt Lynch Featured Film Genre Views

MaXXXine — Ti West

July 5, 2024

Ti West’s 2022 slasher pastiche X was somewhat of a return to form for a guy who keeps trying to make horror films that he thinks are in any way substantive but are at their best are exercises in stylish gore and black humor. That movie’s virtue was simply that it didn’t have a thought in its little head, instead executing a bone-simple story of some good-looking folks who go out in the middle of nowhere and have some fucked-up shit happen to them. In particular, its main character, Mia Goth’s wannabe porn star Maxine, proved both gripping and enigmatic enough that she portrayed her own stalker in a prequel, Pearl, which provided a showcase for Goth’s truly great portrayal of a young hick who realizes she’s got nothing to offer but some good looks.

Now we return for X’s direct sequel, MaXXXine, which finds our heroine, such as she is, grinding it out in the adult film world of ’80s Los Angeles, hoping to segue into “real” movies. Meanwhile, a black-gloved killer plucked squarely out of a giallo film is killing sex workers and branding them with pentagrams. Could this be related to the infamous Night Stalker killings? Detectives Williams and Torres (Michelle Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale, respectively) sure think so. Meanwhile, there’s also a shady PI (Kevin Bacon) who’s blackmailing Maxine for his mysterious employer, threatening to disrupt her casting in a new schlock sequel being directed by Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki).

So yes, there’s a lot of plot and, indeed, a lot of atmosphere in MaXXXine. And it all amounts to absolutely nothing. The film’s various narrative threads steadfastly fail to converge into anything remotely satisfying as characters drop in and out of the throughline with little reason, strange vignettes seem to float by simply so it seems like something is actually happening — an admittedly amusing aside with a mime who comes to a grisly fate being one of the few high points here — and endless quotes from both other horror staples and the previous two films overload the entire thing. West is clearly aiming to sidle up to classics of the L.A. thriller subgenera like Body Double or Vice Squad or, to a lesser extent Angel, but those touchstones are only represented here with faint homage — a Frankie Goes to Hollywood song here, a gondola ride up a cliffside there — without actually having anything to do with the story beyond the quotation. There’s simply no synthesis here, no comment on either the film’s present or West’s view of cinematic and/or genre history.

MaXXXine wraps up with a thoroughly out-of-nowhere final confrontation with a Satanic cult (for some reason) that wants Maxine to lead it, which sort of dovetails with a rather ham-fisted and, frankly, stupidly juvenile and trite bit of running commentary throughout the film about puritanical audiences and horror films not being regarded as substantive. Unfortunately, the director has made a shining example of that exact thing: a blunt, dumb object that insists it’s about something but offers absolutely no proof — there are no pleasures to be found here, not a single funny joke or even a decent kill. MaXXXine is an entirely useless and empty-headed film, and will assuredly be among the worst horror offerings of the year.

DIRECTOR: Ti West;  CAST: Mia Goth, Elizabeth Debicki, Moses Sumney, Michelle Monaghan, Halsey;  DISTRIBUTOR: A24;  IN THEATERS: July 5;  RUNTIME: 1 hr. 41 min.