MaXXXine is the final girl’s final boss

The much-debated slasher trope has a few classic traits: pure, virginal, generally morally superior and worthy of survival. In MaXXXine, the last film in Ti West's horror trilogy, he smashes them all.

When it comes to scenes that spike heart rates, directors can always count on the final girl. Think: Sally Hardesty in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, drenched in blood as she escapes on the back of a pick-up truck; Sidney Prescott in Scream, straight-faced as she crushes the killer’s head with a TV; Alice Hardy in Friday the 13th, screaming at the top of her lungs as she decapitates Mrs. Voorhees with a machete.

She’s the slasher film’s sole survivor, the only one in the friendship group lucky enough to outpace death. A horror trope that first emerged in the early 1970s, the final girl has since found herself marooned in a critical grey area, floating around in a disputed space between feminist symbol and sexist fantasy. There have been a few attempts to negotiate the two on screen – from Ready or Not’s Grace Le Domas to Midsommar’s Dani – but no final girl has been brazen enough to (literally) stomp on balls with her stiletto heels.

Until now, that is. Enter Maxine Minx, the tart-tongued adult actress of Ti West’s recently released MaXXXine. In the last instalment of the American director’s horror trilogy, Maxine (Mia Goth) lands her big break in 80s Hollywood. Nothing, not even the city-terrorising serial killer Night Stalker, can stand in her way.

In case you need a refresher, we last saw Maxine in the final scenes of 2022’s X, where she drives straight to Hollywood after escaping a farmhouse massacre. Unlike Sally, who makes a run from Leatherface via a passing truck driver, Maxine doesn’t wait for luck. We see her immediately back on the road, back on the screen, in her own vehicles, not asking for our sympathies, but more our respect,” says Matt Lulu, Business Partnerships Coordinator at BFI. And in MaXXXine, respect is what she gets – even if she has to put a sleazy private eye (played by Kevin Bacon, no less) in a car crusher to earn it.

On the surface, Maxine has the final girl look – blonde hair, slim build, hot – which she leverages to feign innocence. In an early scene, for example, a man corners her in a dark alleyway. She screams for help, as you’d expect, but then surprises the audience and her assailant by pulling a handgun from her purse at the last second. When was the last time you watched a so-called damsel in distress order her attacker to strip and give her gun a blowjob?

For once, a slasher’s heroine is as big of a threat as the forces threatening her. It’s a much-needed shift from female characters crying, cowering and begging for mercy. The final girl has historically (and problematically) been virginal, or at least sexually conservative. Take Halloween’s (1978) Laurie Strode, for example: her sex-savvy friends are murdered; she, as the respectable” one, survives. Sexuality, then, serves as a pretext for violence, something we’ve witnessed endlessly on and off screen, in fiction and in life.

But Maxine doesn’t deal in piousness or pity. You’re a fucking sex symbol,” she repeatedly tells herself throughout X, her sexuality reclaimed with every refrain. And when she finally makes it to Hollywood in MaXXXine, she uses her porn star past to her advantage – in fact, she gets her break in a horror film because the director believes her unconventional career will get people talking. For Maxine, sexuality doesn’t serve the male gaze, but her own ambitions. It is, she believes, the reason she has the X factor (pun heavily intended).

What’s more, Maxine claims her victories. Too often, final girls emerge more traumatised than triumphant: Sally survives Leatherface at the cost of her sanity; Sidney faces a relentless parade of copycat killers. But Maxine stages a happy ending of her own making. Without giving too much away, in MaXXXine, she’s one of the only survivors who isn’t completely covered in blood by the finale. She ends the film smiling victoriously, having proven her worth to the world and, more importantly, to herself.

Maxine is not a character that wants to, let’s say, join the Red Cross,” said West during a screening Q&A last week. She’s someone that just wants to be famous and wants to change her life. There’s no judgement on whether or not that’s appropriate, or a goal that you should admire.”

Horror has a history of putting final girls under a microscope: she needs to be pure enough, blonde enough, vulnerable yet strong enough to survive. Rather than play by the rules of the genre, West opts for reality, where no one is all good or all bad. Maxine, like all of us, occupies a space in between. She doesn’t fit into the final girl mould, or any mould for that matter. She’s tired of conformity. And she’s ready to fight.

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