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Mia Goth Getty 1.jpg

Mia Goth is the Scream Queen of 2020s Horror

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | July 9, 2024 |

By Kayleigh Donaldson | Celebrity | July 9, 2024 |

Mia Goth Getty 1.jpg

The release of MaXXXine, the final part in Ti West’s X trilogy, had its world premiere this week. This installment follows an adult film star as she tries to become a Hollywood star and evade the clutches of the infamous Night Stalker in 1980s Los Angeles. Connecting the tales is star Mia Goth, who was a hands-on collaborator with West in crafting the two characters she plays across three films: porn star Maxine Minx and Pearl, a murderer who we see as both a young woman and embittered crone. The unexpected success of the franchise greatly increased Goth’s profile, and since then she’s become a committed horror star whose presence in a project promises a certain kind of grandiose fervour. She is our decade’s most unignorable scream queen.

Goth acted in horror films before X, but before that, her career was largely defined by two things: weirdness and Shia LaBeouf. She was only 20 when her debut film was released, and that was Lars von Trier’s Nymphomaniac. The two-part drama followed a self-diagnosed sex addict who recounts her many relationships to a stranger. Goth played a 15-year-old known only as P, who the protagonist, played by Charlotte Gainsbourg, is convinced to groom as an apprentice of sorts to her. There’s no real sex in Nymphomaniac, but a big deal was made of von Trier’s use of digital compositing to superimpose the genitals of porn actors onto the bodies of his film’s actors. It does look very convincing, which is evident in one scene where Goth has sex with LaBeouf’s character in an alleyway.

To Goth’s credit, her work in the film is fearless, even if she still seems a tad too green for a project of this magnitude and she has so little to work with. She told Collider that the film ‘created a blueprint for me in terms of the kind of material that I wanted to work on with the types of directors and that kind of caliber of cast.’ She followed that film up with a mixture of work, which included horrors like A Cure for Wellness as well as period dramas like Emma. But it was horror where the magic lay. The X trilogy is the most prominent example but there’s also Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool, the remake of Suspiria, and the horror-tinged sci-fi High Life. Up next is Guillermo del Toro’s long-awaited adaptation of Frankenstein.

The definition of a scream queen has evolved alongside horror cinema. Once seen as the helpless victim type, the one screeching in fear as she ran away from the serial killer, the women of the genre, past and present, are just as capable of being the ones doing the damage. She can be hero, villain, or both. Not every woman in a horror movie is a scream queen, however: she must be impossible to look away from, whether she’s dying or killing. And Mia Goth is hypnotic as a genre queen.

To start with, of course, you need the scream itself. It’s an underrated talent, the ability to create a truly effective, bloodcurdling scream. Try it yourself sometime, if it won’t freak out your neighbours. It requires a total lack of self-consciousness, the ability to let go of everything and care only about expelling the most attention-grabbing noise your vocal chords can muster. Low-grade horror movies are full of people who just can’t pull it off. The ones who can do it, however, are legendary. Consider Sheryl Lee as Laura Palmer in the extended universe of David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. Hers is a scream that symbolises the very essence of evil when it smothers you into submission. There’s power there, amid the helplessness and aching fragility of the all-American girl whose life has succumbed to rot. Mia Goth screams like a Lynchian heroine, a woman forever on the run from utmost malevolence.

Her scream isn’t quite as chilling as her smile. In the most famous (and most frequently memed) part of Pearl, Goth retains a rictus grin of unhinged murderous joy for several minutes as the credits roll. It’s a scene that went unexpectedly viral and came to exemplify the specific magic of Goth’s horror aura: that of operatic madness. Whether she’s the victim or perpetrator, her characters are twisted into such raw emotional messes that they could only exist in the ecosystem of a horror movie. These are women of rage. They may not be battling the system but they claw and screech and stab as though their futures depend on it. Goth’s horror women are consumed by the genre as well as empowered by it.

While working on Nymphomaniac, she and LaBeouf began a relationship. They married in 2016 but separated two years later. Footage of LaBeouf being intimidating towards her at a gas station in Berlin went viral. After they split, he entered a relationship with FKA Twigs, who is now suing him and alleging a years’ long campaign of abuse and intimidation that included knowingly infecting her with an STD. He has since reunited with Goth and has a daughter with her. For me, it’s hard to separate Goth the actress from that gut-sinking feeling I get whenever I remember who she’s in a relationship with. Goth embodies the feminine rage of horror so thoroughly, all while being with a man who seems to hate women. I see her on and off-screen and fear for her.

Goth has said she would like to move on from horror being her default mode. Nobody is a scream queen forever, but she certainly has the nerve to make it happen should she so desire. She’s one of the only actors who is still attached to the troubled Marvel Studios production of Blade, because of course she’s going to be in a vampire movie. Whatever the genre, I’m excited to see her be in control.