A shadowed disappointment: how ‘MaXXXine’ shoots itself in the foot

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As the credits rolled on MaXXXine, the long-awaited third instalment of Ti West’s beloved X trilogy with Mia Goth, a disappointed sigh broke out across the cinema. The camera stayed still on a fake bloodied cast of Maxine’s head, clearly as a loose nod to the remarkable shot of Pearl that caps off the previous movie. However, as a lesser take void of the emotion or nuance that carries its predecessors, that alone is a perfect example of why MaXXXine shot itself in the foot.

From start to finish, MaXXXine is utterly bogged down in memory of the prior two films. When the movie opens, viewers first meet Maxine as a child, doing the dance from Pearl’s audition and then citing the tagline that weaves the characters together: “I will not accept a life I do not deserve”. It’s a promising start, suggesting that maybe MaXXXine could be the character’s origin story, much like how Pearl provided a thorough and interesting flashback to the life of the villainous old lady from the original. But instead, what ensues feels like a lazy sequel, too focused on tying up loose ends from X that never felt loose in the first place.

It would have been better to follow Pearl’s success. For the series’ second movie, Pearl stayed within the same world but existed as its own story. It was connected enough by Mia Goth, tying the two films together by coming out of the creepy old lady FX makeup and repriving the role as a young woman desperate to be a star. It was a nuanced and fascinating take as the similarities between Pearl and Maxine from X were pointed out in more veiled ways rather than the clunky flashbacks or outright requotes that litter MaXXXine.

The result was a film that pushed forward the emotional core of the story, diving into further considerations of ageing and the multitude of ways that women wind up feeling utterly trapped by society, their circumstances or the cruel passing of time. As audiences watch Pearl ruthlessly attempt to escape her fate, with the knowledge from X that she never truly does, it adds a unique and gripping dose of pathos that makes Ti West and Mia Goth’s campy slasher all the more intriguing. It was a sequel, sure, but as Pearl seemed to take on a life of its own, it soared. 

In contrast, MaXXXine feels so tied to X that it drags the whole series down. The power of these films has always lied in their twisted and beautifully conflicting characterisations. Especially with Pearl, audiences are confronting this undeniably villainous figure that they can’t help but love and root for. There was hope for this new entry to do the same, but it failed.

By the time Goth’s character flees the scene in X, there’s already no real need to return to her character, but the idea of doing so was a nice treat, especially when people became so attached to her. However, the figure we returned to is just a shell of the star with nothing new to say. They could have done so much with the powerful scream queen they created in X and the fucked up yet loveable role of Pearl, but instead, they wasted their own creation away with a dull plot that even Mia Goth’s star power couldn’t save

It was right there, presented on a shiny silver platter for them. As the trailer set the scene of the real-life serial killer of the Night Stalker haunting Hollywood as Maxine starred in a cheesy horror flick, the recipe was right there for a golden film of this character doing whatever it takes to not only make it but survive in a cut-throat industry with a killer on the loose. With the audience already on the character’s side, all MaXXXine needed for greatness was a new and interesting plot.

Instead, it refused to cut ties with X, leading to a limp, overly safe-playing revival where Maxine is too busy being chased by her past to give us anything new to care about. In the shadow of the first movie, there’s no space for any real character development, no further emotions, and no life of its own beyond being a sequel.

In the shadow of a dull plot that overextends an ending for the original, MaXXXine is so focused on its predecessors that it loses all the nuances that made them great. It’s a sad, disappointing end for what was set up as a great character, as they seemed to forget to give her a personality or at least forget what that personality was supposed to be. They could have had her hooking up with the Night Stalker, who isn’t even in the film, or doing the killings herself to get to the top, but instead, Maxine is doing very little, so the movie has little impact.

With so much potential wasted, it’s a funereal third act that warrants a letdown sigh rather than a scream or a cheer.

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