The Movie Waffler New Release Review - MAXXXINE | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review - MAXXXINE

Maxxxine review
A rising movie star is targeted by a serial killer in 1980s Los Angeles.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Ti West

Starring: Mia Goth, Elizabeth Debicki, Moses Sumney, Michelle Monaghan, Bobby Cannavale, Lily Collins, Halsey, Giancarlo Esposito, Kevin Bacon

Maxxxine poster

With 2022's X, Ti West delivered a successful homage to hicksploitation thrillers like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Eaten Alive and Motel Hell. Hicksploitation is one of the easier sub-genres to imitate as all you need are some good-looking young folk to be butchered by redneck grotesqueries. That said, many filmmakers have tried and failed to emulate this simple formula, with only X and Devereux Milburn's underseen Honeydew managing to pull it off in recent years.

Maxxxine review

Following his WWI era prequel Pearl, West now delivers a direct sequel to X in Maxxxine, which catches up with Mia Goth's Maxine Minx, the pornstar survivor of X's night of terror, in the Hollywood of 1985. Once again West is playing in a nostalgic sandbox, this time triggering memories of those lurid Hollywood thrillers of the '80s: movies like Ken Russell's Crimes of Passion, Robert Vincent O'Neil's Angel and Gary Sherman's Vice Squad. If you were hoping this might be West's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, you'll be disappointed to find it's his Last Night in Soho, a hollow piece of cosplay that is somehow more regressive than the decades old movies it's homaging/pastiching.

The movie opens with a montage of (largely anachronistic for its 1985 setting) news clips in the vein of Ben Affleck's Air that takes us back to the "Satanic Panic" of the era and reminds us how Los Angeles was terrorised by the serial killer known as "The Night Staker." In this fraught milieu we find Maxine attempting to make the unlikely leap from porn to mainstream cinema. She manages to achieve this with a successful audition for a horror sequel, "The Puritan II," in which she impresses the director, Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki), with her ruthless determination. Maxine's potential rise is tempered by her fellow pornstars being bumped off as each of them is lured to a mansion in the Hollywood hills by a mysterious "out of town producer." Maxine finds herself being stalked by a figure dressed like the killer from Mario Bava's Blood and Black Lace, along with a sleazy private eye (Kevin Bacon, sporting a Jake Gittes ensemble and even ending up with a plaster over his nose at one point) who has been hired by someone from her past.

Maxxxine review

Where West easily nailed the simple look and feel of redneck horror he only manages to replicate the look of '80s thrillers here. Maxxxine looks the part with its neon-soaked Hollywood Boulevard and sinister mansions in the Hollywood hills, but it never feels like the sort of movies it's in thrall to. Distanced from the era it's attempting to replicate, Maxxxine lacks the anti-Reagan anger that fuelled many of these films. I recall watching movies like Angel and Crimes of Passion as a kid and while I couldn't grasp their political context, I knew I was watching something that contradicted everything the powers that be of the era were telling me was correct. Angel was one of the first films to feature a trans character in a positive light, while Crimes of Passion dared to portray sex work as something liberating while mocking the hypocrisy of the church. By contrast, Maxxxine is oddly regressive in how it posits its pornstars as a group of narcissistic social climbers while it portrays the police in a positive light despite history providing plenty of evidence of American law enforcement's disdain for sex workers in this era. Perhaps what's most odd about Maxxxine is its complete lack of acknowledgment of the AIDS crisis, given how it's set in the world of sex work.

West also struggles to eke out a satisfying narrative. There are nods to the influence of the German Krimi and Italian Giallo genres, but only superficially. Krimis and Gialli were essentially lurid updates of Agatha Christie whodunits, setting up various characters as the potential killer. West never does this here. There's never any question that anyone around Maxine might be responsible for the murders, so we're robbed of the fun of trying to guess who's doin' it. When the killer's identity is finally revealed, it only adds to the regressive nature of the film's take on porn/horror vs Christianity. In interviews West has been keen to point out how he's on the side of the fomer, but his film leaves you with some doubts.

Maxxxine review

It's a shame Maxxxine is such an empty experience as it's anchored by a tremendous performance by Goth as the sort of determined '80s woman who views Madonna's 'Material Girl' as a philosophical tract. There are fun side performances, especially Debicki, who plays her tough British director as though she's the villain of the week on Columbo. But to evoke the name of a great giallo from 1985, there's simply "Nothing Underneath" the neon coating here. The most interesting genre filmmakers use genre as a means to an end, but like Eli Roth, for West genre is the end. He seems to care not so much about the sand, only the sandbox, and his latest film is as superifical and vacuous as the infamous decade in which it takes place.

Maxxxine is in UK/ROI cinemas from July 5th.

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