Mia Goth is exceptionally pretty, but there is something a little off about her. Her bleach blonde eyebrows and eyelashes give the impression of none at all, especially when she’s bare-faced (a facial feature that I understand intimately). This complements her small, heavy-lidded eyes protected underneath a slightly prominent brow. She has a button nose and perfect, heart-shaped plump lips—both in line with unfair Eurocentric beauty standards. She looks like a model, yes, but she isn’t exactly conventionally attractive. She is striking, in that she evokes the inscrutable ghost of a young Victorian woman, yet when she speaks, she has the syrupy, unrefined lilt of a schoolgirl. She is endearing and somewhat otherworldly, but she isn’t quite an ethereal beauty. With a change as simple as her irises shifting from a natural brown to a ghastly pale—as in Luca Guadagnino’s Suspiria remake—she looks like she could positively eat you alive. In her most recent horror contribution, Ti West’s X, she is simultaneously allowed to be more endearing and more monstrous than ever before.
West leans his slasher flick heavily into both Goth as a sex symbol and Goth as a recent staple of the horror genre, with the actor portraying both an aspiring porn star searching for her good old-fashioned American Dream, and (with the help of ample prosthetics) a decrepit elderly woman whose long-gone beauty and sex appeal has turned her embittered and feral. X sees Goth’s Maxine Minx and her film crew friends travel to a remote farmhouse that Maxine’s older producer boyfriend Wayne (Martin Henderson) has rented out so that they can shoot an adult film. There, the little crew soon discovers that the aging couple who owns the farm harbors some resentments towards young people whose youth and beauty still lay tantalizingly before them. Maxine finds herself unknowingly matched with her own future (and herself, literally) in the vengeful older woman, Pearl.
The duality of Pearl and Maxine is one mirrored within the meat of a largely entertaining horror film that doubles as a not-entirely-heavy-handed exploration of mortality, the double-edged immortality granted by something as simple as a film camera and the sexuality which modern films have taken to implicitly chastising. But it’s a duality not altogether dissimilar to that which ties into why Goth’s filmography includes such a large swath of horror films: She is gifted with an innocent yet uncanny visage that feels effortlessly at home in worlds of the otherworldly, and it’s ripe for exploitation.
Take, for example, her role as Hannah in Gore Verbinksi’s A Cure for Wellness, in which her character haunts a mental facility while still being very much alive. Her intentions as a fixture of the facility are initially unclear, and her presence makes us ill at ease. It’s the perfect role for Goth based on looks alone: A silent, ghostly specter that somehow lives and breathes—which is, more or less, what her character is revealed to actually be. Or what about Goth’s take on the buoyant and bubbly Sara Simms in the 2018 remake of Dario Argento’s classic giallo Suspiria? Her late entrancement by a witches’ coven renders her a ghoulish puppet.
Indeed, a look at the actor’s past decade of work reveals a performer overwhelmingly interested in genre projects that would utilize her unique appearance; nearly half of her oeuvre is dedicated to horror or horror-adjacent films. Following her start in Lar Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac back in 2013, Goth has been in more horror pictures than I’d initially realized. In addition to the post-apocalyptic sci-fi thriller The Survivalist in 2015, she was in four horror films in a row between 2017 and 2018: A Cure for Wellness, Marrowbone, Suspiria and Claire Denis’ English-language debut, the sci-fi horror High Life. Now with X—and the in-progress prequel film Pearl, centered on Maxine’s murderous, eponymous alter-ego—it has become all too apparent that Goth has more than enough experience under her belt to establish herself as a major player of horror. But in the running for modern scream queens, the 28-year-old Goth is hardly among those in contention. Emma Roberts, the Farmiga sisters, Goth’s Marrowbone (and Emma.) co-star Anya Taylor-Joy, as well as Goth’s co-star in X, Jenna Ortega, are all listed as recent scream queens according to the “scream queen” Wikipedia page. Goth’s name remains noticeably absent.
In fact, this article was partly spurred by a tweet I saw lightly circulating, which expressed the correct sentiment that Goth is a rightful scream queen—and an underrated one at that. (Interesting to note that searching “Mia Goth scream queen” on Twitter also turns up tweets commending Goth’s performance, but labeling Ortega as X’s scream queen). Like the discussions surrounding Toni Collette before her, Goth’s contributions to the horror genre and true status as a scream queen seem to go largely unremarked upon.
One might wonder if it’s the projects that she chooses. Are they too closely aligned with the occasionally superfluous designation of “elevated horror” to allow her to be in scream queen contention? Roberts, Ortega and the Farmigas have taken part in horror flicks with a bit more kitschy panache (Screams 4 and 5, The Babysitter: Killer Queen), or ones which could be more easily slotted into the label of straightforward, classic horror (The Conjuring franchise). On the other hand, A Cure for Wellness could be branded a mere psychological thriller; High Life too much of a clear-cut (if highly perverse) science fiction film. But then again, Taylor-Joy’s breakout and ensuing horror career owes credit to Robert Eggers’ The Witch, one of the foremost players of what could be considered “elevated” arthouse horror.
So a case exists that, in addition to the prior films in Mia Goth’s collected works, her star turn in X has undoubtedly positioned her as a burgeoning star of the horror genre. As the go-getting, coke-snorting, sapphire-eyeshadowed Maxine, Goth is a dreamy, down-to-earth final girl. She is sexy and alluring, but still as naïve as someone who hasn’t yet been hardened by the world or the false promises of her American Dream. Her presence is totally captivating, and the same can be said of the Goth hidden underneath a wealth of practical effects. As the definition of “horror” has continued to stretch—for better or worse—Goth has managed to fit the mold in all directions. She is as capable of holding her own in a film as occasionally inaccessible and thematically dense as Gudagnino’s Suspiria as she is a sexy slasher flick.
As attitudes towards so-called elevated horror begin to slightly, noticeably shift (it is my personal belief that the wildly enthusiastic embrace of last year’s Malignant is indicative of audiences becoming somewhat tired of the Ari-Asterfication of horror), it is my hope that no matter where horror may go, Goth will be following along. She’s proven more than capable of evolving alongside genre trends and, perhaps, with more work under her belt, she will rise to the ranks of a Wikipedia-recognized scream queen. Or perhaps she’ll go the way of Toni Collette, leaving legions of us to argue for her getting the respect she deserves.
Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.