When we see a now 33-year-old Maxine Mixx (Mia Goth) approaching an audition for The Puritian II, the sequel to a B-horror film with a cult following, she is resolute living within her pastoral father’s saying, “I will not accept a life I will not deserve.” She was the lone survivor of the “Texas Porn Star Massacre” in writer-director Ti West’s 2022’s ‘X,’ so it’s pretty much uphill from there. When she says her lines confidently (A script? Maxine doesn’t need a script!), her way of transferring what she’s been through into the dialogue ultimately lands her in the role. One of the best-running themes throughout this trilogy is that of two characters trying to outrun lives they have no desire for any more. 

Pearl (also played by Goth) unfortunately didn’t, and her life was confined to a secluded barn where it just so happened Maxine and her compatriots visited. There was an eerie synchronicity of Maxine’s possible future if she didn’t jump on the road to gain her spot on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. West’s Maxxxine successfully conjures the style of LA’s 1980s scene-like period snapshots of the technicolor nightmare of ‘Pearl‘ and the grindhouse style of X before it. However, this film runs into being held captive by its homages instead of looking into the more interesting parts of the story before it. 

In the background of the main story, West, cinematographer Eliot Rockett, and the production design team nail the aura of what mid-1980s Los Angeles felt like in terms of Hollywood Boulevard and retro news casts serving constant warnings about real-life serial killer Richard Ramirez, otherwise known as the Night Stalker. The atmosphere is raunchy, humid, and full of inklings about secret lavish parties near the giant Hollywood sign. Within the big city, Maxine is trying to make a clean break from a career as an adult film star — becoming a scream queen would serve as a clean break. People go out of their way to remind her of the risque material she’s done as if it’s a box they seek to keep her confined inside.  Her friend Leon (Moses Sumney) and movie store clerk/film aficionado (think Randy in Scream) thinks so. Before she can dive into the next phase of her life, a videotape arrives at Maxine’s apartment doorstep, showing that someone knows what happened in Texas. 

Maxxxine / Photo Credit: A24

How could this even be? We all saw what happened to everybody in ‘X.’ It’s not like Pearl is all of a sudden going to come back from the dead. Not only does Maxine have to deal with the mental aspects of what happened to her, but an underhanded private investigator, John Labat (Kevin Bacon), tracks her every move for a client he will not reveal. Despite that, West creates the environment for a murder mystery that sprinkles inspirations from the films of Dario Argento and a satire on how absurd the filmmaking business is (and still is).

But ‘Maxxxine’ hits a point where it’s more concerned with replaying character archetypes rather than furthering the story. One of the main appeals of this trilogy is how Goth pours herself into the main characters. She shows how Maxine and Pearl are alike despite having different backgrounds. They grew up in places where the order around them didn’t care about their visions of breaking away. Those fears of what Maxine can be are shown in sparse flashbacks of ‘X’ and would have been an interesting angle to tackle alongside the “who is the person behind the curtain” aspect of Maxine. There’s a tenacity to Maxine’s character despite her circumstances. Instead, the psychological angle of Maxine’s scars of the past is left by the wayside and gives way to a prototypical storyline that doesn’t serve what could have been a great swan song. 

‘Maxxxine’ taps into the real sense of satanic panic occurring around that period, which coincides with the film and Maxine’s upbringing she wants to forget. A-list director Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki) has taken on this low-budget horror film with a seriousness that would make you question why. But if you lump this together with Maxine’s desperation to break away from societal norms, it makes sense. The audience sees glimpses of getting into this main character’s mind on the precipice of a breakthrough or breakdown. As quickly as the film is in motion in that regard, it falls back on tried and true habits — an example would be the stereotypical detective pair of Michelle Monaghan and Bobby Cannavale. While they are entertaining in some parts, they are hooked to a potential Night Stalker/Maxine tie-in chase that doesn’t pay off in the ways you would hope it to.

When it comes down to it, ‘Maxxxine’ has the moves, the soundtrack, and the look it wants to be. Given the scope of the violence within the two previous installments before it, it surprises in its restraint and doesn’t lean on its story enough to carry it to the finish line.

Main Photo Credit: A24