MaXXXine: a gory, self-consciously derivative exposé of the Hollywood machine

The third chapter in Ti West’s X trilogy bleeds the franchise dry with a cynical giallo-esque 1980s-styled thriller starring Mia Goth as a porn actor trying to get her break in horror movies.

Mia Goth as Maxine Minx and Halsey as Tabby Martin in MaXXXine (2024)Starmaker Studios LLC

The only film genre simultaneously more morally censured – and more popular – than horror is porn. That censor-baiting sweet spot where sex and violence intersect has already been explored by Ti West’s 1970s-set X and its Great War prequel Pearl (both 2022). Mia Goth led both films, playing the psychopathic, sexually voracious Pearl who would do anything – even murder – to become a star, and rising starlet Maxine who, shooting porn in Texas on the now much older Pearl’s family farm, survives the ensuing massacre. Yet Maxine’s own future, like her face, seemed reflected in Pearl’s. 

Now the metacinematic MaXXXine closes the trilogy on a note of self-consciously scuzzy sophistication. Even its title, like X’s, suggests an adult classification. It all unfolds under the Hollywood sign in 1985 when sex, slashing and censorship are very much in the air amid TV news reporting on the PMRC introducing parental controls for music, and the horrific outrages of Satanic serial rapist/killer the Night Stalker.

Caught in the middle, the ambitious, fearless survivor Maxine (Goth) literally breaks the balls of any man who threatens her, even as, approaching 33, she is diversifying from her now established porn career into more conventional film acting. She gets a part in Puritan II, whose ruthless writer/director Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki), not unlike Maxine and West himself, hopes to use the period horror sequel to acquire mainstream credibility. 

Maxine’s friends and colleagues start getting brutally murdered, leading her to wonder if it is not just LAPD detectives Williams and Torres (Michelle Monaghan, Bobby Cannavale) and sleazy out-of-town private ‘dick’ John Labat (Kevin Bacon) who are on her tail. For even as Bender longs for her film to show the darker side of 1950s America, Maxine’s own childhood from that decade is catching up with her – a past that is shown at the beginning of MaXXXine as a monochrome home movie on a television set, with the same Academy ratio framing that opens every film in this series before widening out. 

Playing out as a seedy giallo-esque 1980s thriller akin to Dressed to Kill (1980) or Body Double (1984), MaXXXine worships not only De Palma, but the kinds of homages to Hitchcock that typified De Palma’s work (culminating in multiple visits to the film set of the first Psycho sequel). The film becomes a knowingly derivative hall of grindhouse mirrors, where Maxxxine’s lives off- and on-screen are equally dictated by horror tropes. It is a witty, gory, coke-fuelled exposé of the Hollywood machine at its most cynically exploitative, where implicit in the rise of every star is an eventual fall.

► MaXXXine is in UK cinemas from 5 July.