Five Brilliant Female Directors Come Together To Terrify In ‘XX’
The concept of an anthology film is nothing new to the horror genre. It dates back to ‘The Twilight Zone‘ in 1959 or the recent resurgence started by 2007’s ‘Trick R’ Treat.’ 2017’s first venture in anthology horror is the film ‘XX,’ the project where five female directors showcase their take on the genre. Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama, and Sofia Carrillo come together to weave twisted horror stories.
What makes this stand out is seeing the different minds of these women. Each brings something different to the table, but there’s something that bonds it all. The women were each given a certain budget and time constraints but otherwise had creative freedom.
Below, I will breakdown each of the segments from ‘XX‘ and give my personal thoughts on how each film handles the horror genre. Could this female-driven horror collection be a hit?
Interludes By Sofia Carrillo:
The introduction and interludes of these short films are done in a haunting stop-motion animation style. Sofia Carrillo crafted chilling little moments; these interludes do provide some actual scares, but they feel out of place. Maybe seeing Carrillo do an entire stop-motion segment instead of small interludes would’ve worked better!
“The Box” by Jovanka Vuckovic:
Jovanka Vuckovic kicks ‘XX‘ off with her short “The Box.” For me, this was the most morose and maddening piece out of the entire set. Nothing encapsulates the feeling of dread quite like this entry.
“The Box” starts with a young man pestering a man on a train. There’s a voiceover from his mother setting up; he’s a bit of a pain and LOVES presents. The strange man on the train is holding a bold red box and states it’s a present when the boy asks. This man then shows the child what is in the box, and the boy is instantly changed. From that moment, he stops eats. He just brushes off food but seems content with it. This spreads, and you helplessly watch an entire family slip into whatever madness is happening.
That’s where my only negative critique comes from. You literally don’t know what’s happening at all. No questions are answered, and that could be due to the running time, but it feels like an artistic choice. There’s a moment where the young boy is chuckling at ‘Night of the Living Dead‘ so I took that as some foreshadowing. But giving a little more would’ve made this the best piece from this series.
“The Birthday Party” by Annie Clark:
Next up is “The Birthday Party” from filmmaker and musician Annie Clark (St. Vincent). After such a dark first entry, I was so happy that Clark decided to do a horror-comedy instead. Given her background, this also felt like a giant music video at times.
Annie Clark’s “The Birthday Party” is a dark parody of the typical suburban life. Everything seems perfect, but on the inside, it’s a twisted mess. I found myself laughing and gasping during the whole short, sometimes even in the same scene! The lead actress in this piece handles all the craziness for her daughter with such sorrow but keeps fighting to make it a “perfect day” for her. The final moments of the party are the best of the short.
I think this is my least favorite of the bunch. It’s not horrible, but it feels like it was only meant to be a short. My one-time viewing is enough; where there are others on here, I’d watch again and again. I do applaud the different take on horror because that’s what makes it stand out among the other straight-forward genre films.
“Don’t Fall” By Roxanne Benjamin:
When this started, I worried “Don’t Fall” by Roxanne Benjamin was going to be horror mumblecore, but I’m glad this slowly turned in an homage to the ’80s. “Don’t Fall” has elements of creature features, slasher films, and ‘Evil Dead‘ as well.
Setting up this entry seems fairly easy. A group of hipster young adults goes camping in the wrong area, and it leads them to some trouble. The plot is the typical 80’s teen horror set-up, but with the short running time, it felt more thrilling. Things happened quickly, and that cuts all the forced bullshit you see in these genre pieces.
While I enjoy this because of the familiarity, it didn’t really push beyond the obvious reference points. “Don’t Fall” is one of the most accessible entries, though. It will speak to fans of the genre more than some of the more unconventional ones.
“Her Only Living Son” By Karyn Kusama:
“Her Only Living Song” continues a theme from the first two entries and that’s the horror of motherhood. But unlike the others, this feels so raw and personal. It instantly reminded me of 2011’s ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin‘ because of how helpless the mother feels.
This entry follows the story of a mother dealing with her son growing older. She’s also dealing with him possibly being a budding psychopath. Maybe he’s even more than just a deranged kid…could he be something much worse? That’s the question presented in this piece, and I thought it was a perfect choice. There’s paranoia the whole time, and those feelings are subconscious callbacks to classics films I don’t want to name in case of spoilers. “Her Only Living Son” naturally feels like the perfect ending to the anthology.
I think this could be the best of all four. While it has a small budget, the scope felt larger, and this was one of the few I would have loved to see expanded to a feature-length. I was scared the most during Karyn Kusama’s segment.
‘XX‘ is must-see for horror fans! Anthology horror is becoming such staple of modern independent horror, and I’m glad the ladies of this film did it justice.
I would love to see a sequel with more women directors are given the chance to create interesting horror films. Even established horror names like The Soska Sisters, Jennifer Kent, and Mary Harron would make great additions.