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Following the success of horror anthologies such as VHS, XX is comprised of short horror films by four talented female directors. From suburban birthday parties to gory camping trips, these women certainly show that they should not be taken lightly. Despite being uneven as a whole (what anthology movie isn’t?), the film’s campiness keeps the entertainment going .
The film kicks off with The Box, based off of a short story by Jack Ketchum. Written and directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, the story revolves around a mother, Susan, dragging her kids along for errands a week before Christmas. Her son, Danny, sits next to a gloomy looking man with a bright red box and bow. Curious about what’s inside the box, Danny asks the man if he could look inside. After doing so, Danny goes awfully quiet and stops eating altogether. Even though her husband is worried about their son, Susan continues to harbor her homemaker smile and serve copious amounts of food every night. Vuckovic keeps tension high with the unnerving atmosphere. We watch Susan change from this perfect housewife into a helpless woman who’s watching her family disintegrate. Using a small amount of special effects, Vuckovic is able to create the most suspenseful atmosphere.
Next, Annie Clark (or St. Vincent for you music fans) presents us with Birthday Party, co-written with fellow director, Roxanne Benjamin. Melanie Lynskey plays Susan, a housewife determined to make her seven year old’s birthday party the talk of the neighborhood. An hour before the guests are supposed to arrive, Susan finds her husband’s dead body in his study. Desperate to keep the party going, she attempts to hide the body from her daughter and her nosy neighbors. Clark utilizes a more retro look for her film. The background characters look like 1960’s supermodels while Susan sports messy hair and bathrobe. The Birthday Party is certainly the campiest of all four films and also has the most character development.
The next short was Benjamin’s gory Don’t Fall. Four dumb teenagers are hiking up a mountain when they come across strange cave drawings from thousands of years ago. Breeda Wool plays the innocent Gretchen who accidently touches the drawings. That night, she turns into a mysterious creature who’s out for blood. This is the only short where there was a copious amount of effects used. The monster itself was terrifying and could easily star in its own film. But Benjamin’s use of jump scares and blood felt cheap and tacky in the anthology as a whole. While the other entries had similar themes revolving around motherhood and femininity, Don’t Fall feels very out of place.
Last year, Karyn Kusama hit it big in the horror genre with The Invitation. She proved that she could create a compelling picture using only atmosphere and dialogue. In her short, she embraces the likes of Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen. Cora (Christina Kirk) is a single mother who is ready to celebrate her son’s 18th birthday. However, she notices a horrible change in his attitude when he starts killing animals and ripping the nails off of female students at school. He starts to develop bestial symptoms and is protected by minions such as the mailman and school principal. Kusama directs a fascinating look at a boy’s downward spiral into abusing women and how no one seems to take that seriously(“He’s just becoming a man is all”). It’s an interesting idea but is never able to come to fruition.
XX’s idea had potential but it never felt completely satisfying. It’s great that these women were able to showcase their talents but it was more of an appetizer than a full meal. If you love the VHS series, then you’ll probably have fun with this; just don’t expect it to keep you up at night.