'MaXXXine' is cathartic, gruesome, and ballsy as hell — but is it queer?

Mia Goth in Maxxxine
Mia Goth in Maxxxine

That MaXXXine is as good as it is feels like something of a Hollywood miracle. Which is particularly ironic considering the third and final chapter of this Grand-Guignol tryptic deals in the sleazy underbelly of that same infamous city.

If ever there were an avatar for the mixture of ambition and the vagaries of the entertainment industry, it’s Maxine Minx, who audiences initially met in the first of the trilogy, X. The film picks up a handful of years later and Maxine, the sole survivor of the “Texas Pornstar Massacre” and aspiring starlet, has made her way to Hollywood in pursuit of her dreams. While she has found success in the adult film industry where women age like “bread not wine,” Maxine has always craved something better and is on the cusp of breaking through to mainstream success in a horror sequel helmed by an auteur (Elizabeth Debicki) with grander plans for her film that its humble genre trappings.

Does it all feel a little meta? That’s because it is.

While X sent up ‘70s exploitation horror, turning it on its head with its progressive attitudes about sex work and empowered sex workers, and Pearl twisted the Americana fantasy of the Technicolor Golden Era Hollywood, MaXXXine turns its eye on the ‘80s era gritty crime thriller of your Brian DePalmas and William Friedkins. Again, West puts his own spin on those tropes of yore and in MaXXXne, Ms. Minx serves as the femme fatale, the victim, and the hero all in one, creating a complex amalgam of a character who’s equally compelling as she is inscrutable. You could say she has star quality.

Mia Goth and Halsey
Mia Goth and Halsey

Justin Lubin

Maxine’s big ambitions hit a bloody speedbump in the form of a serial killer stalking the hot Los Angeles nights, picking off sex workers with ever closer associations to Maxine herself, putting her on the defensive as well as in the crosshairs of the police. Despite her best efforts to move on and live a life she “deserves,” she instead finds herself trapped in a cat and mouse game with a killer, a private detective, and the authorities, all while trying to maintain her composure and not lose out on the “big break” she has literally killed for.

Mia Goth
Mia Goth

Justin Lubin

It’s a setup that’s three films in the making and writer-director Ti West and Goth make the absolute most of it, squeezing every bit of atmosphere out of the sweaty Los Angeles setting and urban 1980s aesthetics. But what’s most striking is the genius of the casting in each role. Goth continues to prove time and time again why she is one of our greatest actors working today, carving out and elevating a place for herself in genre filmmaking. There’s something daring, dangerous, and kinetic about her when she’s on screen, even when she’s perfectly still. There’s something alive and coiled in her eyes, and that unpredictability lends itself perfectly to a performance that has to draw you in protectively while also being terrified of and desperate to see what she will do next. Make no mistake, Maxine isn’t afraid to use violence when cornered. It’s a thing of terror and cathartic beauty to behold.

Giancarlo Esposito
Giancarlo Esposito

Justin Lubin

While Goth again serves as a magnetic center of the film, she is surrounded by stars who are able to meet her where she’s at. Giancarlo Esposito, Kevin Bacon, Elizabeth Debicki all turn in stellar, camp performances, which is precisely what the assignment calls for. The always excellent Esposito serves as Maxine’s lawyer, Teddy Night Esq., an agent and fixer with the perfect blend of smarm and menace. Kevin Bacon’s turn as a unctious private eye John Lebat from The Big Easy is a scene stealer from the moment he arrives on screen, flashing his gold teeth and wrinkled cheap suit. And Debecki’s ball busting ‘80s (dyke-coded) power director serves as wickedly icey foil to the eager Maxine.

Mia Goth and Elizabeth Dibecki
Mia Goth and Elizabeth Dibecki

Justin Lubin

All of this helps to elevate what is both intentionally and lovingly intended as a genre outing. LIke the two films that preceded it, West uses those tropes to tell a modern and cathartic tale. It also elevates and creates a true heroine out of precisely the kind of woman that Hollywood too often chews up and spits out, and ultimately serves as a perfect end to a trilogy of films that feel like a true gift to horror and genre fans.

Kevin Bacon
Kevin Bacon

Justin Lubin

One question remains: Is MaXXXine gay? I’d say it would fall into the category of queer inclusive. Maxine’s closest friend Leon is queer, she and her fellow sex workers code as pan, and Dibecki’s Elizabeth Bender gives power dyke vibes (and shoulder pads) and really the name kind of says it all, so yeah, we’re counting her. While this movie might not be a queer horror film, we do exist in the world, and not as a punch line or as cautionary tale, but rather as part of its fabric. So yes, there’s plenty for queer audiences to sink their teeth into.