Moving Pictures
Jul 10, 2024, 06:29AM

Who is Maxine and Why is Everyone Complaining About Her?

Ti West makes a programmer for the summer of no movies and people bitch about the third act.

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Ti West made two films in New Zealand back-to-back with Mia Goth because they got stranded during the pandemic. X and Pearl—especially Pearl—broke through in 2022 to an impoverished multiplex and a somehow hip studio (A24) willing to back West through a potential franchise. These are horror films, and X blows, an uninspired riff on The Texas Chain Saw Massacre with zero energy and less lighting. Pearl was much better, a horror melodrama anchored by Goth’s howling performance—“I’M A STAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAR!” Is thing West has ever shot.

I didn’t know about him or his work until X. I caught up with a few and didn’t like any of them. So I had some strange, measured expectations going into MaXXXine last Friday: hoping for an improvement or a draw with Pearl, or the sky—and if not, it’s not like I ever expected anything of this guy. I only wish I understood the enthusiasm for House of the Devil because Mary Woronov and Tom Noonan are in it. But these last three movies have been fine—anything to keep theaters alive until someone, not something, figures it out. Another Megan Ellison, an Alan Ladd Jr., and unfortunately David Zaslav is not that man.

But A24 managed to become the first studio in modern memory, or ever, to achieve the same cache as a cool band or a record label. It’s bizarre—Miramax was a popular brand, but it wasn’t hyped up by teenagers and twentysomethings. Specific genres, films, filmmakers, actors, of course, that’s the movies—but a studio? It’s not as if they’re any more “specialized” than any other major independent. Everything Everywhere All At Once doesn’t have any connection to MaXXXine or Uncut Gems or Booksmart. Nevertheless, people treat them like a band or a label, and in turn they’re more personally invested and, often, offended by what they do. Which is the same thing as every other studio: they release films…

MaXXXine is a fine slasher to watch on a muggy Friday night with a moderately full crowd. I hope you get to see it with some people, because the first kill—and that cookie jar full of cocaine—had everyone howling. Goth gives a powerful performance once again, but the movie’s biggest fault is sidelining her for a series of minor characters only there to be killed off or speak exposition (or “ideas”—Elizabeth Debicki’s no-bullshit director is an elementary school level caricature, and Debicki does what she can with the material. She was better in Tenet). There aren’t enough good kills either, and when a certain cop gets it in the eye, you’re underwhelmed. Her casting as a detective was more interesting than anything else her character had to do or say.

But the most disturbing thing about MaXXXine isn’t the gore but the lighting. There’s none. This, like many other contemporary American movies, just isn’t lit well. Everyone’s invisible in anything but blinding daylight or movie lights. It’s crazy, and West’s lugubrious pace doesn’t help the subconscious deflation that occurs in an audience when a movie, at some crucial level, isn’t communicating itself.

This guy has nothing new to say, but if you can find a packed theater, go. Don’t think about it too much. There’s nothing there.

—Follow Nicky Otis Smith on Twitter and Instagram: @nickyotissmith


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