Review: “XX” Showcases The Talents Of It’s Four Fearsome, Female Directors
Director: Jovanka Vuckovic, Karyn Kusama, Roxanne Benjamin, St. Vincent
Horror anthologies have seen a major resurgence recently. As always, they have been a mixed bag of good and not so good, but more often than not they are entertaining and show off the talents of young, up-and-coming writers and directors. The newest anthology to hit the genre is “XX”, and it carries the distinction of being the first ever horror anthology to be created by a cast of all female writers and directors. Four women bring four segments to the table, ranging from a straight creature feature to a black-as-night comedy. Although the film misses a connecting narrative, the segments are separated by some eerily beautiful stop-motion sequences from Sofia Carrillo.
In the first segment, “The Box”, writer/director Jovanka Vuckovic adapts a Jack Ketchum tale about two children and their father wasting away, and the mother trying to figure out how to stop it before she loses everything. After a strange man shows the contents of a gift box to her son, Susan (Natalie Brown) begins to notice that he rapidly loses his appetite for both food and life in general. When the condition passes to daughter, and eventually her husband (Jonathan Watton), she begins to crumble emotionally as her whole family begins to disintegrate.
Some viewers will undoubtedly complain about the ending not revealing any answers, but I didn’t really mind. The buildup was so wonderfully tense that, by the time I realized I had to figure out what was in the box for myself, I had enjoyed the ride so much that it didn’t bother me. Vuckovic does a great job at setting the tone with an unsettling tension that never wavers. “The Box” also sets the table for the (mostly) constant theme of the trials of motherhood that is present in three of the four segments.
Next up is Annie Clark’s (AKA St. Vincent) “The Birthday Party”. More of a dark comedy than a straight up horror, the story centers on a mother (indie darling Melanie Lynskey) who is attempting to throw a perfect birthday party for her daughter (Sanai Victoria). When she discovers the corpse of her dead husband, in his study, she tries everything she can to elude the suspicious gaze of the nanny (Sheila Vand) and Lucy, to prevent a birthday catastrophe.
While I loved the performances from Lynskey, Vand, and a fun cameo by one of my favorite actresses on earth Lindsay Burdge, I felt like “The Birthday Party” lacked a little something. It was funny, and I am not saying it wasn’t a solid effort by Clark. It just failed to really grab me for some reason. Still, it shows the promise of an obviously talented directorial voice, and has some fine acting and a very clever ending.
The third segment, “Don’t Fall”, is written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin. Her short follows a group of friends (Casey Adams, Breeda Wool, Angela Trimbur, and Morgan Krantz) as they travel to a remote desert area, for a camping getaway. Before they even set up camp, they discover some creepy petroglyphs of an ancient entity. It doesn’t take the group long to realize they are not alone, and the film quickly amps up the horror and bloodshed.
Easily the most “Horror” of the four segments, “Don’t Fall” goes for broke in its final moments. Benjamin shows off her ability to craft tension and transfer it to the screen. She is certainly a director to watch for in the future.
The film’s finale, “Her Only Living Son”, is written and directed by Karyn Kusama who has already made a splash in the horror world with last year’s “The Invitation”. The story follows Cora (Christina Kirk) as she tries to keep her son Andy (Kyle Allen) hidden from a mysterious group of people who seek him. That task grows increasingly difficult as Andy begins to display some pretty disturbing behavior.
The story is a bit familiar, but Kusama does such a good job with the visuals and Kirk delivers such a fine performance that the film still hits the mark. Her short also boasts the most memorable ending of the four, and gives the film a fitting end.
Overall, “XX” is an anthology with more highs than lows. The acting and directorial talent is there in spades, and each short is definitely worth a watch. Hopefully “XX” serves as a vehicle for all four of it’s talented creators, and we see much more from them in the near future. For now, they have made a fine entry into the list of recent horror anthologies.