Cinema: MaXXXine - plenty of gore if not quite the thrills of Pearl

Mia Goth, left, and Halsey in MaXXXine. Photograph: Album/AlamyMia Goth, left, and Halsey in MaXXXine. Photograph: Album/Alamy
Mia Goth, left, and Halsey in MaXXXine. Photograph: Album/Alamy
MaXXXine (18), (101 mins), Cineworld Cinemas

The huge disappointment is that MaXXXine isn’t anywhere near as good as last year’s prequel instalment in the trilogy, Pearl which was a completely compelling and thoroughly uncomfortable trip to the cinema.

But MaXXXine is probably at least as good as X which started it all off in 2022, and that’s probably good enough. And in fact, it’s from X that MaXXXine picks up the story. After her blood-soaked efforts to shoot a porn movie, Maxine Minx is still driven by single-minded ambition, still utterly intent on making her name somehow, oddly inspired by her distinctly dodgy evangelist dad for whom life is apparently all about getting what you deserve. She’s most definitely his girl when it comes to determination. It seems he’s not quite so keen on the direction she’s heading…

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But at least she’s trying to move on from the porn now, trying to make her way into mainstream cinema in a horror film directed by Bender (Elizabeth Debicki). Debicki’s Englishness seems utterly jarring in the role. She doesn’t convince for a moment. But Mia Goth as Maxine – now MaXXXine – is as good as ever, a fascinating creation, definitely Ripley-esque in her means of survival and her attitude towards winning the game.

The obstacles are stacked hugely against her. There is a ghastly seedy private detective (Kevin Bacon) on her case, a man whose strings are being pulled by… well, we’re not quite sure whom. But it’s a decent performance of total seediness by Bacon, and just how good is it to see him actually acting rather than endlessly grinning in those awful, increasingly mindless phone adverts that he has made his speciality in recent years. Adding to the body count of it all is a serial killer who seems to be getting ever closer to MaXXXine. The victims are in her orbit. Her survival skills really are going to be put to the test.

And on the killer’s trail – and MaXXXine’s too – is a contrasting double act of LAPD cops Detective Williams (Michelle Monaghan) and Detective Torres (Bobby Cannavale). Williams hints at added complexities: are the bodies really the work of just the one killer? Torres, on the other hand, is more or less a waste of space.

Director Ti West keeps it all bubbling away nicely. Or rather, nastily. It’s all decently paced and suitably atmospheric, a mix of ambition and slaughter, of sleaziness and resilience. And the ending, when it comes, is reasonably effective, if not entirely plausible. But then again it’s probably not about the plausibility anyway. It’s more about the chills – and there are certainly plenty of those in a film which richly deserves its 18 rating.

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It certainly hasn’t got that special quality which made Pearl quite such a special and striking film, but MaXXXine’s world certainly draws you in, with all its ambiguities. Quite what we are supposed to make of her, it’s almost impossible to stay, but Mia Goth certainly makes her live and breathe. It leaves you suspecting there are more films to follow, and that’s not an unappealing prospect.