Major spoilers ahead for MaXXXine. You’ve been warned. 

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Reliving the 1980’s has become an extremely popular trend in Hollywood recently. Everything from Stranger Things to Love Lies Bleeding (2024) to Cocaine Bear (2023) has immersed us in the decade of excess. For the most part, it’s been about reminding us of the fun things: the birth of MTV, New Coke (okay, that wasn’t so fun, new Coke sucked), big Aqua Net hair, shoulder pads, Pac-Man and Madonna.  

But there was also a much darker half to the 80’s. Like rampant cocaine abuse, AIDS and Richard Ramirez, aka the “Night Stalker,” who terrorized Southern California committing a wanton spree of sexual assaults, kidnappings and murders. And it’s that seedy, scary side that filmmaker Ti West taps into for the final chapter in his horror trilogy, MaXXXine.  

RELATED: Movie Review: X

What started with X, a spot-on, excellent homage to Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) and went back even further with the rare, decent prequel in Pearl, comes back around to the story of burgeoning starlet Maxine (Mia Goth). The story begins with a home movie of young Maxine (Charley Rowan McCain) dancing for her father, Pastor Ernest Miller (Simon Prast). Turns out he’s the same preacher we see belching fire and brimstone all over the TVs in X. He teaches young Maxine the affirmation that will become her life’s motto: “I will not accept a life I do not deserve.” 

Maxine (Mia Goth) leaves an audition in MaXXXine

Mia Goth in MaXXXine

Cut to 1985 when, in addition to the Night Stalker murders, the infamous Parents Music Resource Center declares war on music, leading to Senate hearings (in which famously, Dee Snider of Twisted Sister testified). Other fundamentalist groups pick up on the trend, protesting outside the studios, calling out Hollywood’s “evil” influence on young people with all the sex and violence in the movies they put out.

Maxine (now known as Maxine Minx) shows up to a casting call at a major studio. Now blonde, permed and decked out in denim, Maxine doesn’t seem like what the producers are looking for – especially when they read on her resume and headshot that she’s a porn actress. But Maxine isn’t the least bit bothered by the stigma. She proceeds to deliver an impressive audition, knowing the lines by heart (harkening back to that incredible monologue in Pearl).  She’s also not the least bit bothered when they ask to see her breasts, casually unzipping her top and showing them off. Maxine leaves the stage and announces to the long line of waiting actresses that they should just go home, because she’s got it locked up. And she does – she gets the part.  

RELATED: Movie Review: Pearl

Maxine goes back to work, getting into costume to play a nurse in whatever porno they’re shooting. She talks to co-worker Amber (Chloe Farnworth), telling her about the audition. Amber invites Maxine to go with her to one of those infamous parties “in the Hills” filled with rich guys and movie producers. Maxine declines, saying she has to work her other job, which is at a peep show. Dressed in another costume, she dances for an unseen client – a guy in black with gloves. All we see is him getting worked up enough that his hands break off part of the window frame. And we wonder if this might be the Night Stalker. 

Maxine (Mia Goth) talks to her friend Leon (Moses Sumney) at the video store

Moses Sumney, Mia Goth in MaXXXine

Maxine leaves the peep show with co-worker Tabby (Halsey), who thanks her for walking with her. Tabby also invites Maxine to a party, but she turns it down. They go their separate ways and Maxine goes down an alley – but there’s a lech watching her. Dressed up like silent movie actor Buster Keaton, he (Zachary Mooren) follows her, ready to assault her with a knife.  

But Maxine knows he’s behind her and pulls a gun on him – Buster’s busted. With impressive intensity, Maxine makes him her victim, forcing him to strip naked and suck on the gun barrel. Then she forces him onto his belly and makes sure he learns his lesson by stomping his family jewels to a bloody pulp with her boot heel. Yikes.  

Later, back at her apartment where she’s napping with her friend, video store clerk Leon (Moses Sumney), there’s a knock at the door. Maxine finds a videotape, left there by the guy in black. Maxine pops it into the player and is shocked to see that it’s the porn flick from X. She knows that whoever left it also knows what happened at that farm – that she killed Pearl.  

RELATED: Trailer for Ti West’s MaXXXine Brings the Horror to Hollywood

Meanwhile, the guy in black, who’s being driven around town by a private investigator named John Labat (Kevin Bacon), kidnaps Amber and Tabby. He videotapes the attack and leaves their bodies in a lake at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Police find the bodies the next day and Detectives Torres (Bobby Cannavale) and Williams (Michelle Monaghan) take the case. They note the pentagram symbols branded on the girls’ faces and think they might have more Night Stalker victims.

Detectives Torres (Bobby Cannavale) and Williams (Michelle Monaghan) show photos of murder victims in MaXXXine

Bobby Cannavale, Michelle Monaghan in MaXXXine

Maxine meets with the makeup effects artist (Sophie Thatcher) to get a latex cast done for the movie. The FX artist pours the latex over Maxine’s face and then leaves her while it sets. Maxine’s fine at first, but then she starts flashing back to the horrific events on the farm. She has a panic attack and ends up falling on the floor, clawing the latex off of her. Then later, she gets a note with Labat’s phone number. She calls it and Labat tells her to meet him at the famous Bonaventure Hotel. 

When she gets there, Labat tells her that his employer needs to meet her. He gives her an address on Starlight Drive in the Hollywood Hills and tells her that if she doesn’t come, he’ll rat her out and she’ll be arrested for Pearl’s murder. Maxine puts on her best poker face and says she has no idea what he’s talking about. 

Then Detectives Torres and Williams track Maxine to her apartment. They try to get her to talk to them about Amber and Tabby, knowing she worked with them. Maxine listens to their spiel but then flat out refuses to talk. She goes to work on the set of “The Puritan II” and finds that the director, Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki), is tough, driven and stern – not entirely unlike Maxine herself. Elizabeth drives Maxine around the lot and shows her the famous house from Psycho (1960).  

She lectures Maxine on the hardship of being a female director in Hollywood. Elizabeth’s determined to use this lame horror flick as a steppingstone to bigger, better things. She’s going to make “Puritan II” a “B-movie with A-ideas.” And she’s taken a huge professional risk by casting a porn actress, so Maxine had better pull her weight. 

RELATED: In a Violent Nature Spoiler Review

When Maxine leaves the set, she spots Labat following her. So she gets out of her car and stomps up to him. With her keys in her grip like spikes, she wails on Labat until his face is a bloody mess. Then she gets back in her car and drives off as Labat yells that things are personal now. 

Labat (Kevin Bacon) gets beaten up by Maxine in MaXXXine

Kevin Bacon in MaXXXine

Instead of going to Starlight Drive, Maxine stays home and goes through her script to learn her lines. Meanwhile, the guy in black shows up at Leon’s video store and attacks him, brutally slashing and stabbing him to death. The next day, as police are wheeling his body out, Torres and Williams spot Maxine in the crowd. They show her Leon’s face and Maxine freaks out, horrified, trying to get to him. 

Really worried now, Maxine calls her smarmy agent, Teddy Night, Esq. (Giancarlo Esposito), to get his help with Labat. Teddy tries finding out about him but can’t find any info on the guy other than that he’s a private investigator from New Orleans. Maxine goes to work on set and meets Molly Bennett (Lily Collins), the star of the first “Puritan” flick. Molly gives Maxine advice, telling her she’s got a pretty face and a great bod. So if she just makes Elizabeth happy, Maxine will be well on her way to being the star she’s dying to be. Molly says she should know, since her “Puritan” character was brought back for the sequel even though she died. And she has a big “party in the Hills” to go to that night. She’s made it.

On her way out, Maxine spots Labat following her again. She leads him on a chase around the lot and through a bunch of sets. Finally, Maxine runs into the Psycho house and luckily for her, a security guard spots Labat and takes him away. But he stays on her, and that night Maxine gets all dolled up and goes out to a club. Entranced by her alluring look and some totally rad Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Labat falls into a trap set by Teddy and gets knocked out. 

RELATED: MaXXXine Adds All-Star Cast Including Lily Collins, Kevin Bacon, Halsey and More

When he comes to, Labat finds himself handcuffed to the steering wheel of his car. He soon realizes that he’s also at a junkyard inside a car crusher. He pathetically pleads for his life while Maxine, Teddy and his friends, Shepard (Uli Latukefu) and his dogs coldly stare back at him. Labat comes to a messy end as he gets crushed to death – and Shepard’s dogs eat the leftovers that drip out. Yum. 

Teddy (Giancarlo Esposito) and Maxine (Mia Goth) look on as Labat gets crushed to death in MaXXXine

Giancarlo Esposito, Mia Goth in MaXXXine

Finally, Maxine decides that she has to free herself from Labat’s employer’s threat. And she can also help the cops capture whoever’s murdering her friends. Maxine goes to Starlight Drive and takes the funicular up to the fancy house – where the guy in black reveals himself to be none other than her father, the preacher. 

To her shock, he’s not only killed her friends but also Molly Bennett, whose dismembered body falls out of a suitcase. Ernest knocks Maxine out and when she wakes up, she’s tied to a tree out by the pool. They’re surrounded by Ernest’s followers, all dressed in ceremonial robes. They’re going to shoot their own movie, where Ernest will “exorcise” the demons that have corrupted his daughter, and blame Hollywood as the source of all evil.

Suddenly, Detectives Williams and Torres arrive on the scene and a shootout ensues. Ernest runs off into the hills by the Hollywood Sign, followed by Maxine and the detectives. Torres takes a fatal bullet and Williams gets stabbed in the eye with a cross and falls to her death. Which leaves Maxine to deal with her father, who’s been wounded. She holds a shotgun on him while a police chopper hovers overhead, putting them in a spotlight.

RELATED: Here Are 6 Brilliant Female Horror Directors You Need to Know

Maxine has a vision of the fame she’ll experience from bringing the Night Stalker to justice (even though he’s not the Night Stalker). And she tells her father that he didn’t fail her – he provided the “divine intervention” she needed. Then she fires, turning his head into an exploded melon.

Later, Maxine returns to work on set, dressed like one of Alfred Hitchcock’s blonde leading ladies. The crew has a moment of silence for Molly Bennett before going back to work. Elizabeth shows Maxine the shot setup, which is a dummy head of Maxine in the middle of a bed. “It looks so real,” Maxine says, and Elizabeth asks what’s next for her star. And as we hold on the head, Maxine just says she never wants her fame to end.  

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 X and Pearl were hands down two of the best horror flicks in recent years. Each respectfully homaged a unique filmmaking style while bringing emotion and a seriously messed up sense of humor to the slasher genre. And Mia Goth was a huge part of what made both flicks so good. Her intensity, focus and even sweetness made Pearl an incredible character. You felt for her – you empathized with her plight of being left behind by her husband to suffer under the oppressive thumb of her mother. Pearl’s desperation to be loved drove her to homicidal madness. And even though there was no condoning it, there was definitely an understanding of her feelings. 

Maxine (Mia Goth) rides around the studio with Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki) in MaXXXine

Mia Goth, Elizabeth Debicki in MaXXXine

So it’s sad to have to say that all that good stuff is missing from MaXXXine. What should be the exciting culmination of a really well-told story, ends up falling surprisingly flat. Even though Mia Goth is in almost every shot, the unthinkable happens – Maxine disappears inside her own story. Not that it’s everything, but Maxine hardly has any dialogue, for one. And what’s probably supposed to be hardened street savvy doesn’t play that way. After another incredible monologue delivery at the audition, Maxine falls into this sullen, blasé attitude that’s almost zombie-like at times. She’s also overshadowed by all the other star power in the flick, which is considerable – and even they aren’t all they should be. Like Elizabeth Debicki’s mentor character, who should be a formidable source of feminist power, comes off way more preachy than wise. 

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And what’s even worse is that Maxine’s character development goes nowhere. Even though we know of her determination to get to the top, the murder of her friends doesn’t seem to affect her very much – except for Leon, whose death is the only time we see any real emotion besides annoyance. It would’ve been awesome to see Maxine discovering that part of herself that’s basically a good person, even if she’s ambitious to a fault. It would’ve been good to see real, palpable fear that she’s going to be the next murder victim. Or more than just one scene of her really grieving Leon’s death, since he was her only real friend. To see that hitting home for her and her decision to then do the right thing would have been a terrific arc. But instead, it seems like Maxine just does what she does to get people off her back.

And the reveal of her father as the big bad is – well, kinda disappointing, if not entirely unexpected. The whole exorcism and shootout feels anticlimactic, like a bad stage play instead of the real, frightening scene it’s supposed to be. The only thing that does come across loud and clear is that Hollywood can be and often is a source of – if not outright evil – danger. People weren’t entirely off-base in protesting that. The siren song of fame and fortune lures good people in and often spits them back out as ruined, lost souls. MaXXXine could have been the defining ending that showcased that tragedy, while also showing Maxine becoming a stronger, better person despite all that’s working against her. If Ti West did try to bring that emotional heft to the story, like Maxine herself, it got lost inside the spectacle. 

MaXXXine poster

 Written and Directed by: Ti West 

Release date:  July 5, 2024 

Rating:  R 

Run time:  1hr, 43min 

Distributor:  A24 

A QUIET PLACE: DAY ONE Spoiler Review

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