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MaXXXine: Ti West & Mia Goth Kill Their Own Trilogy!

Mia Goth’s performances and Ti West’s direction both made 2022’s X and Pearl stand out amongst the current crop of horror. Unfortunately, they can’t save the latest movie.

Mia Goth, Giancarlo Esposito, Lily Collins, and Ti West at LA premiere of MaXXXine (2024). Credit: Shutterstock/Tinseltown
From left: Mia Goth, Giancarlo Esposito, Lily Collins, and Ti West at LA premiere of MaXXXine (2024). Credit: Shutterstock/Tinseltown

A24 is helping produce and shepherd some of the most talked-about horror films of recent memory! Of these films are director Ti West’s X and Pearl (2022), both starring Mia Goth. This past July 5th, both of them helped deliver the conclusion to this trilogy: MaXXXine (2024), and it seems to have divided many. However, if you haven’t seen the movies, let’s catch you up (spoilers throughout)!

Goth as Maxine in X (2022). Credit: YouTube/A24
Goth as Maxine in X (2022). Credit: YouTube/A24

What are X and Pearl About?

On March 18th, 2022, X was released. It centers on a crew of actors and filmmakers in 1970’s Texas going to a house owned by an elderly couple to shoot a porno. The film stars Goth, but also Jenna Ortega and Kid Cudi, and made a big splash! Goth’s performances received much of the praise. “Performances?”, you ask? Yes, Goth plays two people in the movie! She plays Maxine, an ambitious adult film star, and Pearl, the old woman who targets the group for killing.

A riff on the horror classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974), X was very enjoyable for me. Ti West brings great direction, great editing, and good gore, and Goth is awesome in both roles. Even under prosthetic makeup as an old woman, you can see the effort.

Goth as younger Pearl in Pearl (2022). Credit: YouTube/A24
Goth as younger Pearl in Pearl (2022). Credit: YouTube/A24

Both West and Goth thought Pearl was a breakout character, and so another film was written. Filmed in secret right after X, no one really expected Pearl (2022) to release the same year in September. Focusing on Pearl’s life before the last film, Goth plays her younger, more naive, and exceedingly dangerous. Pearl also received rave reviews, and Goth’s performance was right at the top of elements that were praised.

And rightly so! This vehicle is certainly a showcase for Goth’s technical ability as an actress, and she delivers a one-of-a-kind performance! You feel bad for her as she struggles to achieve stardom, and yet she will make you hate her for her acts of cruelty. The one-take monologue she has near the end of the movie is flawless, and the pained smile that lasts over the credits is seared into my brain.

A frightened Maxine in the latest film. Credit: YouTube/A24
A frightened Maxine in the latest film. Credit: YouTube/A24

How Does MaXXXine Stand Up?

MaXXXine takes place after X, focusing on Goth’s other character, Maxine Minx. Although she has finally made it to Hollywood, Maxine faces adversity in getting parts, while also trying to deal with the traumatizing events that happened in Texas. Further complicating matters is a masked killer offing people close to her.

If X homaged 1970s horror and Pearl combined horror with old Technicolor dramatics, MaXXXine tributes 1980s slashers for its aesthetic. West’s movie, much like the other two, looks great, with a solid vibe established by accurate clothing/props, neon lighting, and fitting needle drops.

Regarding casting, Goth is good. It’s a more understated performance after something like Pearl, but she still makes Maxine a compelling presence. Elizabeth Debicki plays a no-nonsense horror movie director, Giancarlo Esposito pops up as a funny, shady agent for Maxine, but by far the best part of the cast is Kevin Bacon! He plays a sleazy P.I. hired to blackmail Maxine, and he chews the scenery with evil glee. Whenever he’s on-screen, you pay attention.

Kevin Bacon as John Labat in MaXXXine (2024). Credit: YouTube/A24
Kevin Bacon as John Labat in MaXXXine (2024). Credit: YouTube/A24

Regardless of that, I found MaXXXine to be underwhelming, not necessarily because it followed Pearl, my favorite of the trilogy. The main difference between this film and the other two, for me, is focus. The first two have various themes, homages, and ideas (we’ll talk about those later), but they also focus on decent characters in tandem with that.

MaXXXine has a lot of characters, but aside from the casting, they aren’t necessarily written to be compelling. It has a lot of homages, but some of them aren’t used to full effect. For example, the iconic house from Psycho (1960) appears for a bit, but aside from one hallucination sequence, it’s barely in the movie. Why hype up using it at all? And, it has themes, but they are all half-baked.

Maxine seeing the Psycho (1960 house on a set. Credit: YouTube/A24
Maxine seeing the Psycho (1960 house on a set. Credit: YouTube/A24

MaXXXine’s Thematic Place in the Trilogy

Each film in the trilogy deals with stardom, but at different places in time, and in different eras of filmmaking. X deals with the 1970s and independent filmmakers, and Pearl deals with movies in their relative infancy. In that sense, MaXXXine fits as well as the gloves on its’ black-clad killer that terrorizes LA. This time, it’s about stardom in Hollywood, and how being ruthless gets you to the top.

However, it’s not as successful as something like X or Pearl. The former could rely on a great ensemble dynamic, and the latter has a great central arc for Goth’s titular character. By design, MaXXXine can’t compete. A large part of the ensemble, aside from Bacon, can’t help Goth elevate the story because of how scattered they are throughout the story. Not only that, Maxine isn’t as interesting as Pearl, so her relationship to fame isn’t as unique.

There’s also a religious thread in MaXXXine that continues from X, as Maxine is the daughter of a preacher. It’s an angle that makes sense, but is only very concrete in the third act. A few religious protests woven into the movie don’t do much, and the way everything plays out in the finale feels inorganic. Again, I believe this comes from MaXXXine spreading itself too thin.

Maxine becomes a movie star in MaXXXine (2024). Credit: YouTube/A24
Maxine becomes a movie star in MaXXXine (2024). Credit: YouTube/A24

Is There a Future Beyond the X Trilogy?

Despite there being an incident with Mia Goth and an extra on set, it seems that Ti West has an idea for a another film in this series. I wish I could say I was truly excited.

There’s no doubt West is a passionate and talented filmmaker in this genre. Perhaps he has found a muse in Goth, who is certainly a talented star. However, I’m not sure how much room there is to make a longer series after MaXXXine. For one thing, what would the aesthetic be? The only thing I can think of is something akin to Scream (1996), which would be after the 1980’s, but West already goes slightly meta for this movie. It would feel redundant.

You also can’t pivot away from slashers, because that would feel like whiplash. As for the character of Maxine herself, what other room is there for her to grow? Maybe she becomes like Pearl became in X, but that would be repetitive.

In my opinion, if MaXXXine couldn’t properly close the trilogy, I think continuing past that could be more detrimental. While not without some craft, the sloppy themes and third act troubles really make it the worst of the three. I think whatever idea West has, he should put a big “X” through it, and start from scratch!

Written By

Hi, my name is J.D., and I'm a writer here at TrillMag, and as far back as I can remember, I've loved talking and writing about movies, TV, and the general entertainment industry. I hope to cover some current trends, and also recommend some things you might've overlooked!

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