‘MaXXXine’ Maxes Out its Starpower

After surviving 2022’s “X,” pornstar Maxine Minx aims to make a name for herself as an actress.

Following “X,” and “Pearl,” does “MaXXXine” settle for an ending it doesn’t deserve?

Written and directed by Ti West, “MaXXXine” caps off the “X” trilogy in thrilling and fashion.

After surviving 2022’s “X,” pornstar Maxine Minx aims to make a name for herself as an actress. In the midst of god-fearing audiences and self-obsessed egos, Maxine dredges through the sleaze of ‘80s Hollywood to become a star. 

In the background to her quest for fame lies a mysterious killer stalking the streets of Los Angeles. When the serial murders connect to her past, Maxine aims to find the killer before they sever her dreams of stardom.

“X” stood apart for its ‘70s horror aesthetic with modern filmmaking standards. Its blend of sexual philosophy and unpredictable kills led to its prequel “Pearl,” releasing the same year. The follow up doubled-down on the sensuality, with greater emotion and sparser yet more intense horror.

As a trilogy ender, “MaXXXine” wraps in a flashy but by-the-numbers manner. While not as passionate as “Pearl” or as surprising as “X,” the film entertains in its own right as a celebration of low-budget horror.

West (“X,” “Pearl”) imbues the setting with intense detail. From pedestrians in bold colors walking dingy streets to fluorescent signs atop vintage stores, “MaXXXine” is dripping in design. The film echoes aesthetics from ‘80s auteurs Brian De Palma and Paul Schrader, with scenery ripped straight from the grime-laden Hollywood depicted in their works. 

During the day picketers cry against the ‘satanic panic,’ a movement protesting sexual and violent media, while at night droves visit adult boutiques. Whether, in protest or participation, the people of “MaXXXine” are mindful of all things salacious.

Image courtesy of A24

Populating the sleaze-soaked setting is a cast of memorable characters. Kevin Bacon as private investigator John Labat plays a secondary antagonist digging into Maxine’s past. Bacon (“Footloose,” “Tremors”) chews through his scenes with a thick southern accent and schlubby persona.

Giancarlo Espisoto likewise gives a minor yet boisterous performance as Maxine’s legal representation. Esposito (“Breaking Bad,” “The Boys”) ironically plays a character not dissimilar to his “Better Call Saul” counterpart, Saul Goodman. Esposito’s Teddy Night is a lawyer well-versed in both petty crime and snazzy apparel.

Bringing her own powerhouse performance is Elizabeth Debicki as filmmaker Elizabeth Bender. Debicki (“The Crown,” “Tenet”) depicts the director as dedicated to her craft and Maxine’s debut film. Bender is the endpoint for Maxine’s hustle for success, a career professional still needing to justify her worth in a cutthroat industry.

This isn’t to say each side character is a necessary addition. Two officers occupy a side-narrative investigating the killings. Their forced presence is an unnecessary homage to dated crime thrillers. Additional cast members only serve to grow the kill-count, lacking the personality present in the previous films’ victims.

The myriad of strong and weak characters makes it a shame Maxine herself doesn’t stand out further.

Giving a compelling scream-queen performance in “X” and an astoundingly manic one in “Pearl,” Mia Goth disappointingly falls flat for “MaXXXine.” Giving an understated performance to cap off  the “X” trilogy, Goth (“Suspiria,” “High Life”) shines in moments of emotion but is drowned out by louder personalities.

Aside from an accent that dips into parody, Maxine’s character remains mostly static. Save for a crushing sequence in the first 15 minutes, neither Goth nor “MaXXXine” exceeds its opening.

Where “X” surprised and “Pearl” shined, “MaXXXine” feels safe.

The whodunnit-angle is hardly a mystery when its biggest twists are unsatisfyingly obvious. Sentiment falls short when the bodies start dropping, mostly offscreen and hollow of impact.

When paired with its predecessors, “MaXXXine” can’t help but be a lesser film. It doesn’t go far enough to surprise and it doesn’t warrant its safety with a compelling plot. Yet there’s still plenty to love from the film — everything from its atmosphere to its cast and spades of talk-worthy moments. 

Releasing three films over four years is a feat worthy of praise. With each harboring its own aesthetic and gratifying scenes, the “X” trilogy is sure to be a new classic among horror fans. 

While speed aided the making of “X” and “Pearl,” hopefully “MaXXXine” won’t be mired for turning out less than stellar.

“MaXXXine,” rated R, comes to theaters July 5.

Featured image courtesy of A24.

Brendan Parr

Brendan Parr

Brendan Parr is a fourth-year majoring in Film and Digital Media and minoring in Political Science. Since joining The Phoenix during his first-year Brendan's been a consistent presence. Covering film, television, comic books and music, his pension for review writing motivated his column, 'Up to Parr.' Brendan joined staff as Arts Editor in fall 2024.