The journey to MaXXXine: Revisiting Ti West’s X and Pearl

9 Mins read

In the ever-evolving realm of contemporary film, few endeavours have masterfully intertwined the intricacies of aspiration, sexuality, individuality, notoriety, generation gaps, and emotional distress within the immersive fabric of terror quite like this.

Warnings: Mentions of sexual and violent themes.

The culmination of this trilogy, the highly anticipated sequel to the initial film Maxxxine, showcases Mia Goth’s captivating performances as its anchor.

Not only has this trilogy reimagined the visual appeal of slasher films, but it has also reignited fascination with a genre rife with opportunities for profound psychological exploration and societal commentary.

From the dry, sun-drenched settings of a Texan farm to the brightly illuminated streets of Los Angeles, X and Pearl have established a standard for Maxxxine by employing diverse visual styles, themes, and genre blending.

This ensures an ongoing storyline that delves into the shadowy aspects of human ambition and the relentless pursuit of fame. The backdrop ranges from the raw authenticity of 1970s pornography to the vibrant, dreamlike landscapes of early Hollywood and the dazzling allure of 80s neon glamour.

Exploring the roots: X and its impact on vintage horror revival

A filming crew walking around a Texas farm.
The Farmer’s Daughter porn crew preparing for filming at Howard and Pearl’s farm [A24/Christopher Moss]

Ti West’s film X skillfully juxtaposes the world of adult filmmaking with the rural landscape of Texas, creating a stark contrast between the liberated filmmakers and the conservative local residents who hold resentment towards them.

This setup not only revisits the traditional slasher theme where sexuality often leads to disastrous consequences but also provides a cultural commentary, reflecting the societal divisions of the 1970s.

The film’s narrative is complex, intertwining the production of a porn film with escalating terror. The first part focuses on the crew filming Farmer’s Daughter, with a particular emphasis on one of the actors, Maxine Minx (played by Mia Goth).

They arrive at a rural Texas farm owned by an eccentric elderly couple, Howard (Stephen Ure) and Pearl (also played by Goth). Unbeknownst to the porn crew, the elderly couple, especially Pearl herself, have hidden motives driven by their own fading youth and sexuality.

The couple initiates a lethal and sadistic game of pursuit and capture with their targets, primarily targeting Wayne ( Martin Henderson), Jackson (Kid Cudi), Bobby-Lynne ( Brittany Snow), RJ (Owen Campbell), and ultimately Lorraine (Jenna Ortega).

This climaxes in a confrontation between Maxine and Pearl, during which Maxine confronts Pearl for her desperate quest for fame and freedom, asserting that she is nothing like her as she says: “You’re a kidnapping murdering sex fiend, I am a f**king star! The whole world’s gonna know my name!!”.

Despite her own aspirations for recognition and popularity, Maxine vows to never stoop to the same level as Pearl, which eventually ends with Maxine giving Pearl her own karmic death for everything she did for years and Maxine escaping the farm to pursue her own path of freedom.

Mia Goth’s captivating performances as both Pearl and Maxine in X offer a compelling exploration of the complex relationship between youth and old age.

Through their characters, the film explores the timeless theme of ambition, highlighting how the pursuit of beauty and fame can have haunting consequences later in life.

A brunette woman looking back inside a makeup and beauty room.
Mia Goth portrays both the pornstar Maxine Minx… [A24/Christopher Moss]
An old woman wearing a bloodied white dress standing over a body at night holding a leaf raker.
…and the jealous and depraved old woman named Pearl [A24/Christopher Moss]

The dual casting enhances the narrative, showcasing how Maxine and Pearl, despite their similarities, chose divergent paths that ultimately shaped their identities. By intertwining their stories, X forces audiences to confront the unsettling reality of aging and the choices we make along the way.

As Mia Goth effortlessly embodies these contrasting roles, she brings depth and nuance to the film’s examination of beauty’s fleeting nature. The characters of Maxine and Pearl, though decades apart, mirror each other’s deepest fears and desires, adding a psychological depth to the slasher genre.

‘X’ expertly pays homage to the iconic 1974 classic The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, immersing viewers in the chilling atmosphere of a Texan farmhouse inhabited by deranged individuals. The film captures the raw and gritty aesthetic of the original, transporting audiences back to the eerie ambiance of 70s horror cinema.

However, X is not content with mere imitation. It skillfully weaves in elements of the era’s visual and thematic style, creating a narrative that feels simultaneously nostalgic and fresh. By blending old and new, X brings a unique twist to the genre, embracing modern filmmaking techniques while staying true to its roots.

It’s also worth noting that Covid-19 is part of the reason Ti West filmed X: “The original plan was to shoot on 16mm, but because we made the movie in New Zealand during Covid, it would’ve been impossible to get dailies within two weeks. We shot on the Sony Venice and used these groovy hawk lenses”.

“I went exhaustively out of my way so that people thought I shot on 16. That’s not so much because of nostalgia for the format. Film offers a certain aesthetic that digital is almost there but not the same. Especially when you make a movie like this, that is part of the charm of it.”

West utilised the old light fixtures to create the aesthetic of 70s celluloid as he continues: “In post [production], there’s a minimal amount of defocus on the whole movie, which takes away some of the sharpness — and then there’s a certain amount of moving grain we shot from film to overlay onto it. All of that sounds like a ton of work, and it’s kind of invisible when you watch the movie because it’s not grindhouse-y or kitschy. It’s there to take the edge off the modernness of the technology.”.

In the past, the director has utilised the medium of film. For instance, The House of the Devil, a movie centred around a babysitter who gets entangled in a Satanic conspiracy, was filmed using 16mm film, creating an old-fashioned look that suits its 1980s backdrop.

Furthermore, shooting The Innkeepers on 35mm film imbued it with a haunting sense of nostalgia that contrasted with the offbeat humour of two hotel employees on a quest for supernatural encounters.

Pearl: Diving into the origins of madness

A woman in a blue dress performing on stage with spotlight.
Mia Goth as Pearl in her younger days during the tumultuous 1910s [A24/Christopher Moss]

In the Old Hollywood of 1918, we are transported back in time to witness Pearl’s captivating story. Pearl resides on a traditional farm with her German parents, while her husband, Howard, is away fighting in the First World War.

The film depicts Pearl as a young woman filled with aspirations of fame and fortune, viewing the movie industry as her ticket out of the mundane farm life she leads.

Her relentless ambition is driven by her steadfast belief that she is destined for a life far beyond her present circumstances. Consequently, her already delicate mental state deteriorates gradually as she turns to a multitude of lethal methods to attain the recognition and luxurious lifestyle she has always desired.

Pearl’s journey from a hopeful actress to a killer is fueled by her overwhelming sense of frustration and loneliness. After being turned down by a dance group and rejected by the projectionist, who was uncomfortable with her and finally her husband Howard’s decision to stay on the farm, Pearl’s dreams and aspirations morph into a dangerous obsession.

Much like what Pearl says in her monologue in which she imagines it expressing it to Howard about how she wanted him to get her out of the farm life: “I may be a poor farm girl, Howard, but I’m not stupid. I spotted you the moment you came to live with us. You worked hard like the other farmhands, but you were different. You’re from somewhere. A nice, comfortable place that you could return to whenever you wanted. I’m so desperate to have that. All my life, I’ve wanted off this farm and you were my ticket out. So… I made sure to never let you see who I really was. It worked like a charm, too. Then when you finally brought me back to your home to meet your family, it was just as I hoped. A life straight out of the pictures. At least that’s what it felt like to me.”

Pearl then moves onto expressing her resentment and disappointment at Howard’s decision in wanting to stay in the farm, how she didn’t want a child and how she feels unlucky in life unlike him: “You just wanted to stay here on our farm, and that made me so angry. How could you? I’m certain you knew I hated it, you must’ve. How could you be so selfish and cruel after all I’ve done to make you happy? I was even pregnant with your baby. I never wanted to be a mother”.

She continues: “I loathed the feeling of it growing inside me. It felt like sickness. Pulling and sucking on me like some needy animal in a barn. How could I be responsible for another life? Life terrifies me. It’s harsh, and bleak, and draining. I was so relieved when it died. It was one less weight keeping me trapped here, but then the war came and you left me, too. Why did you leave me, Howard? I hate feeling like this. So pathetic. Do people like you ever feel this way? I figure you don’t. You seem so perfect all the time. Lord must’ve been generous to you. He never answers any of my prayers. I don’t know why. What did I do? What is wrong with me?”

Pearl’s connection to her family, particularly her husband Howard (younger version portrayed by Alistair Sewell), is intricate and filled with behaviours that enable each other.

Howard’s quiet dedication and his own experiences from World War I add to a pattern of aggression and suppression, as he avoids addressing Pearl’s escalating inclinations towards violence. This interplay is further complicated by the societal limitations of the era, which inhibit Pearl’s actions and contribute to her sense of being trapped and disenchanted with her aspirations.

This ultimately leads her to carry out her first acts of homicide, unintentionally killing her mother, and intentionally killing the projectionist (David Corensweet), her father, and ultimately her sister-in-law Misty (Emma Jenkins-Purro). These acts serve as the trigger for her descent into a realm of brutality and immorality, with Howard aligning himself with her.

The essence of this transformation is perfectly captured in her words to Misty as she kills her after her own failure to make it to stardom: “It’s not about what I want anymore Misty, It’s about living with the best of what I have.” This shows that Pearl’s sanity slippage is now complete and now she has to live with the fact that she is doomed to a permanent farm life with Howard till she dies.

In the movie, Pearl is depicted as a character study to show how once a seemingly hopeful woman can become so depraved and psychotic as a result of all the pressures and failures put upon her and how her desire for fame and ambition can easily cause her to snap and become evil.

It also showed how Pearl was once like Maxine when she was her age as like her, she also desired to be famous and loved.

The final chapter: Anticipating MaXXXine

A blonde woman aiming a gun at an unseen person in the alley.
Maxine Minx prepares for a confrontation in “Maxxxine” [A24/Justin Lubin]

Ti West’s final installment in the trilogy, MaXXXine, takes Mia Goth’s character, Maxine Minx, on a thrilling journey to 1980s Hollywood. In this captivating realm of glamorous temptation and irresistible peril, the story unfolds with a tantalizing mix of drama, horror, and the relentless pursuit of fame.

Maxine bravely navigates through the glittering facade and dark underbelly of the film industry, determined to establish herself as an actress and achieve the recognition she desires. As she strives to make her mark in this competitive world, Maxine must confront both the allure and danger that comes with seeking stardom all the while confronting her own traumatic past.

MaXXXine promises an enthralling narrative that explores the highs and lows of the Hollywood dream, captivating audiences with its blend of gripping storytelling and captivating characters. The film’s meticulous adherence to the aesthetic and production techniques of the era ensures an authentic retro experience, devoid of modern cinematic trickery.

Set in the vibrant neon landscape of 1980s Los Angeles, the film MaXXXine delves into the captivating and shadowy aspects of Hollywood, while also touching upon the societal themes of ambition and fame that defined the era.

This particular backdrop is significant as it aligns perfectly with the trilogy’s overarching storyline of desire and inevitable downfall, incorporating various cinematic styles that connect back to the rawness of the 70s in X and the dreamlike technicolor of Old Hollywood in ‘Pearl’.

Mia Goth returns as Maxine Minx, whose personal journey unfolds as she transitions from an adult film star to a mainstream actress while shooting her latest horror flick, The Puritan 2, in the heart of Los Angeles.

This final chapter delves even deeper into Maxine’s tumultuous past and her ongoing battle with her own aspirations all the while the Night Stalker killer Richard Ramirez is on the loose.

The inclusion of a diverse and talented supporting cast (featuring Halsey, Lily Collins, Elizabeth Deblicki, Kevin Bacon, Giancarlo Esposito, Moses Sumney, Bobby Cannavale, and Michele Monaghan) hints at a complex web of relationships that will drive the narrative towards an unexpected conclusion.

Throughout Ti West’s horror trilogy, we explored the themes of ambition, fame, madness, and morbidity. Mia Goth’s performances as Pearl and Maxine drive the series, weaving together the consequences of unchecked desire with the lasting impact of past actions. This psychological horror journey revives vintage aesthetics while incorporating deeper socio-psychological themes into its storytelling.

As we approach the imminent release of Maxxxine, the final instalment in this trilogy, we can expect an even deeper exploration of the hidden depths of human ambition. This time, the story unfolds against the backdrop of different time periods, spanning from the early 20th century to the electrifying atmosphere of the 1980s.

This progression not only showcases how horror has evolved as a powerful cinematic tool, but also enhances the thematic impact of the characters’ journeys across these distinct eras.

The excitement surrounding how West will connect these narratives highlights the trilogy’s importance as a groundbreaking force in the horror genre, ensuring that it will continue to provoke discussion and admiration long after the closing credits have rolled.

Featured image courtesy of Don Lens/A24

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