Home » ‘MaXXXine’ Review: Fame Monster – The New York Times

‘MaXXXine’ Review: Fame Monster – The New York Times

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A psychosexual thriller imagined in blood red and cocaine white, “MaXXXine,” the third installment in Ti West’s nostalgia-soaked slasher saga, is part grungy homage to 1980s Hollywood and part sleazy feminist manifesto. Darker, moodier and altogether nastier than its predecessors — “X” (2022) and, later that same year, “Pearl” — this hyperconfident feature is also funny, occasionally wistful and deeply empathetic toward its damaged, driven heroine.

That would be Maxine Minx (Mia Goth), the sole survivor of the dirty-movie cast massacred in “X.” Now a successful porn star, Maxine, eager to break into mainstream movies, has relocated to a Hollywood of spectacular seediness. It is 1985 and, as in real life, a killer known as the Night Stalker is terrorizing the city, the so-called Moral Majority is hyperventilating on the sidelines and rock musicians are fighting accusations of satanic intent. In one pungent shot of Maxine’s boot grinding her cigarette stub into the silent film sex symbol Theda Bara’s star on the Walk of Fame, West underscores the transience of the celebrity status that Maxine so desperately seeks.

“I will not accept a life I do not deserve,” she declares, repeating the mantra taught by her father, a preacher seen in speckled, black-and-white flashback. Securing a role on a low-grade horror sequel brings her under the wing of its industry-toughened director (a perfect Elizabeth Debicki). Yet Maxine is constantly distracted: Her friends are dying, and two homicide detectives (Bobby Cannavale and Michelle Monaghan) want to question her; a Louisiana gumshoe (Kevin Bacon, a skeevy vision in crumpled suits and gold-capped incisors) keeps randomly accosting her; and a mysterious, black-gloved stalker haunts the film’s shadows. No wonder Maxine is plagued by panicked recollections of her traumatic past.

While neither as touching nor as original as “Pearl,” “MaXXXine” clearly demonstrates West’s boundless flair for a sleazy image and his commitment to depicting the insistent tug between puritanism and pornography. Wise to the sexism of the industry, he shows its consequence in the growing ruthlessness of Maxine’s ambition. As the soundtrack grinds out Frankie Goes to Hollywood and ZZ Top, West and his skilled cinematographer, Eliot Rockett, emulate the tacky aesthetics of the sexed-up ‘B’-thrillers that proliferated at the time, painting a classy glaze around the movie’s trashy heart. Making inspired use of a deglamorized Hollywood Boulevard and the back lot of Universal Studios, Rockett ensures that his cool tracking shots and throbbing, almost slimy blobs of neon and shadow are as essential to Maxine’s story as any line of dialogue.

Goth is, as usual, sublime. In “Pearl,” she played a fresh-faced ingénue whose dashed dreams curdle into insanity, and we wonder if Maxine is on the same path. Especially when we recall the Bette Davis quotation that West plants early in “MaXXXine”: “Until you’re known in my profession as a monster, you’re not a star.” Building on its predecessors, “MaXXXine” is telling us that the real monster is not a knife-wielding nutjob, but ambition itself.

Rated R for a sliced neck, a severed scrotum and assorted carnage. Running time: 1 hour 43 minutes. In theaters.

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