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Review: MaXXXine

Ti West's latest film, "MaXXXine," is a fun pastiche of the 1980s, embracing the darker, seedier aspects of the decade. This third installment in West’s horror trilogy, following "X" and "Pearl," is a violent yet affectionate homage to the horror films that he likely grew up with. While it has loads of style, it may be lighter on substance than the other entries in this wonderful set of films.

Set in 1985, "MaXXXine" follows the journey of Maxine Minx (Mia Goth), a former adult film star who survived a brutal massacre in "X." Now in Hollywood, Maxine is striving to transition into legitimate acting. After a stellar audition for a controversial horror sequel, "The Puritan II," her dreams are threatened when a VHS tape surfaces, linking her to the murders from "X." West refers to the events as "The Texas Porn Star Massacre" in a clever nod. A shadowy figure employs a sleazy private investigator, John Labat (Kevin Bacon), to stalk her, while a series of murders reminiscent of the Night Stalker terrorize her social circle.

West’s film skillfully captures the sleazy underbelly of his exaggerated take on1980s Hollywood. It's not hard to pick up on his disdain for the place. Maxine’s world is populated by strip bars, peep shows, and gritty street life, all underscored by a soundtrack featuring ZZ Top and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The mid-'80s atmosphere is further enriched by billboards nodding to contemporary films and scenes set on the Universal backlot, including a memorable appearance by the Psycho house.

Mia Goth delivers a powerhouse performance, blending the sexual allure and fierce independence of Maxine with a palpable vulnerability. Early in the film, Maxine is attacked in an alley, only to turn the tables on her assailant in a manner that is both brutally gory and darkly humorous. Goth’s portrayal is multifaceted, showing Maxine's determination and resilience as she navigates the perilous world of Hollywood.

Despite its strong stylistic elements and compelling lead performance, "MaXXXine" struggles with thematic depth. The film’s exploration of 1980s neo-puritanism in the wake of the Satanic Panic and the fetishistic pursuit of celebrity is intriguing but lacks the emotional resonance found in "Pearl" and the incisive commentary on 1970s sexual liberation in "X." The plot, while engaging, occasionally feels disjointed, with key subplots that turn out to be red herrings and a central mystery that ultimately disappoints despite a splashy final act.

The supporting performances are a highlight. Elizabeth Debicki shines as the hard-nosed director Elizabeth Bender, delivering intense speeches about the challenges of breaking into and surviving in the film industry. Kevin Bacon’s sleazy PI is suitably creepy, but also showcases the actor's comedic abilities. Giancarlo Esposito’s turn as Maxine’s lawyer, shackled with a ridiculous wig, has a blast with his brief role.

The film’s meta-commentary on Hollywood and horror tropes give moments of cleverness, particularly a scene where Maxine breaks the fourth wall in homage to the final shot of "Pearl." "MaXXXine" also excels in its visceral horror elements, with some of the most extreme kills in the series. The violence is graphic and inventive, ensuring that gore enthusiasts will not be disappointed. The film also uses its 1980s setting to critique the era's sanitization and corporate exploitation of culture, presenting a version of the decade that feels raw and authentic.

"MaXXXine" is a visually striking if thematically murky film. Mia Goth’s performance is a highlight and the film’s portrayal of 1980s Hollywood is immersive. The narrative’s lack of focus prevent it from reaching the heights of its predecessors but only just slightly. This is perhaps the most fun entry in the series even if its light on ideas. "MaXXXine" offers a bold and bloody trip back to the 80s often misremembered, making it a worthy addition to Ti West’s horror trilogy.



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