Mia Goth and Ti West are on a mission to convert horror skeptics with ‘MaXXXine’

LOS ANGELES (AP) — As Mia Goth and filmmaker Ti West walked the red carpet this week for the premiere of “MaXXXine,” the final installment of the pair’s buzzy horror trilogy, a group of hired “protesters” stood outside the TCL Chinese Theatre chanting and holding signs with messages like “Horror is not art” and “Hollywood is Satan’s playground.”

The marketing stunt was an homage to the movie’s backdrop against the satanic panic and censorship wars of the 1980s. But, like the movie, it was also a commentary on what society considers trashy or tasteless and an airing of grievances about sustained sentiments toward one of the most polarizing genres of film.

“‘MaXXXine,’ more than any of the other two, is quite meta. And there were tons of instances in this movie where it definitely felt like there was a parallel between what was going on in the script and what was going on when we filmed it,” said Goth, who also worked as a producer, ahead of the movie’s highly anticipated theatrical release by A24 on July 5.

It follows Maxine Minx (Goth), an adult film star trying to break into mainstream movies. She becomes increasingly concerned that her violent past will interfere with her plans for fame after she gets her big break with a role in a horror sequel, “The Puritan 2.”

“You’re not going to the top in no horror movie,” a fellow adult film, played by Halsey, tells Maxine.

There’s a kind of irony to the religious extremism that permeates West’s trilogy, given his and Goth’s mission to convert nonbelievers to the genre’s appeal. Despite the commercial success of the previous two films, “X” and “Pearl,” and praise of Goth’s performance from industry titans like Martin Scorsese, both Goth and West sense a reluctance from the more refined circles of Hollywood to fully embrace well-made horror movies.

“If I’m totally honest, I do think that sometimes the work is somewhat reduced,” Goth said, who has embraced the genre as an actor with films like Brandon Cronenberg’s “Infinity Pool,” and Luca Guadagnino’s 2018 remake of “Suspiria.” “It would be nice if they just, you know, appreciated it because of the performance.”

West is optimistic about his proselytizing efforts, arguing that “MaXXXine” is, at its core, simply a “fun summer movie.” The film’s impressive cast, including Kevin Bacon,Giancarlo Esposito, Elizabeth Debicki and Lily Collins, is perhaps a testament to West’s theory.

“I think, somewhat historically, for me, the people who like my movies the most are people that are on the fence about horror,” he said. “You can always close your eyes at the gruesome parts. And you can still enjoy this movie even if you think you don’t like horror movies.”

Although those gruesome parts are certainly there, West has crafted “MaXXXine” as an entertaining period piece about Los Angeles in 1985. His commitment to world building is evident throughout the trilogy, from the 1920s Disney-esque technicolor visuals of “Pearl” to the ’70s DIY porn aesthetic of “X.”

“The thing about, say something like, ‘MaXXXine,’ is because it’s the 1980s, everything that’s in front of the camera has to get picked by me because it isn’t just there. You don’t just walk out and go, ‘This location works,’” West explained. “Every shot, every prop, every wardrobe, everything is now a conversation and decision about what would serve the movie. That to me is just a much more fulfilling way to approach things.”

In “MaXXXine,” West utilizes both landmarks around Los Angeles, like the Hollywood sign and the Universal backlot, as well as actual events from the time, including the Night Stalker, the infamous occultist serial killer who terrorized parts of California. Given its Hollywood setting, the director saw an opportunity to pull back the curtain on the mystique of filmmaking and weave in commentary about how the industry treats people, particularly women.

Early in the film, Maxine delivers an impressive and emotional monologue during her audition for “The Puritan 2.” While she is still wiping away the conjured tears from her cheeks, a female producer casually asks to see her breasts.

“It’s heightened so that we laugh at it. And at the same time, we know that it’s real,” Debicki, who plays the film’s director, said. “People are clocking it more and building more barriers for women and for people in the industry, protecting us from people who do harm unto others. But I think this is a movie set in 1985 and there were no barriers.”

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