MaXXXine review: bloody revelation of the Hollywood machine

The only film genre that is simultaneously more morally frowned upon—and more popular—than horror films is pornography. This censor-fective intersection of sex and violence has already been explored in Ti West's 1970s-set X and its World War I prequel Pearl (both 2022). Both films star Mia Goth, who plays the psychopathic, sexually insatiable Pearl, who will do anything—even murder—to become a star, and the aspiring starlet Maxine, who makes porn on the now much older Pearls' Texas farm and survives the ensuing massacre. Yet Maxine's own future, like her face, seemed to be reflected in Pearl's.

Now the meta-filmic MaXXXine ends the trilogy on a note of self-consciously sleazy sophistication. Even its title, like that of X, suggests an adult rating. It all takes place under the Hollywood sign in 1985, when sex, slashing and censorship are in the air amid TV Reporting on the PMRC Introducing parental controls for music and the gruesome atrocities of the satanic serial rapist and murderer Night Stalker.

Caught between the fronts, ambitious, fearless survivor Maxine (Gothic) literally breaks the balls of any man who threatens her, even though at almost 33 she is switching from her now established porn career to more conventional film acting. She gets a role in Puritan II, whose unscrupulous author and director Elizabeth Bender (Elizabeth Debicki), who is not unlike Maxine and West, hopes to gain credibility among the general public with the sequel to the historical drama.

Maxine's friends and colleagues are brutally murdered, which leads her to wonder if it is not simply LAPD Detectives Williams and Torres (Michelle Monaghan, Bobby Cannavale) and sleazy private eye John Labat (Kevin Bacon), who comes from another city, are hot on her trail. For while Bender wants her film to show the darker side of 1950s America, Maxine is caught up in her own childhood in that decade – a past that is shown as a monochrome home video on a television set at the beginning of MaXXXine, with the same Academy-format image that opens each film in this series before expanding.

A seedy, giallo-esque thriller from the 1980s, akin to Dressed to Kill (1980) or Body Double (1984), MaXXXine not only pays homage to De Palma, but also the kind of homages to Hitchcock that are typical of De Palma's work (culminating in multiple visits to the set of the first Psycho sequel). The film becomes a deliberately altered hall of mirrors, with Maxxxine's life on and off screen alike defined by horror cliches. It's a witty, bloody, coke-fueled expose of the Hollywood machine at its most cynical and exploitative, where every star's rise also brings its fall.

MaXXXine is in United Kingdom in cinemas from July 5th.