Director: Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama, Annie Clark, Jovanka Vuckovic
Cast: Natalie Brown, Melanie Lynskey, Breeda Wool, Christina Kirk, Jonathan Watton, Peter DaCunha
Screenplay: Jovanka Vuckovic, Roxanne Benjamin, Annie Clark, Karyn Kusama
80 mins. Rated R for horror violence, language and brief drug use.
It seems like anthologies are coming back in a big way. For me, at least, they never left, but they are being brought forth more and more as of recent in an independent setting. The problem with them, as I’ve said before, is that they can be hit-or-miss, which can be a major problem. There’s also a question of theme and framing, and that’s what made XX such an interesting addition to the canon. As far as theme goes, it’s all based around the writer/directors, who are all women. I think the idea of an all-female horror anthology sounds very intriguing, especially as I’ve been quite aware of the limited opportunities for female storytellers in film. What a great way to introduce and boost female voices. But does the film work?
The framing device for XX is pretty simplistic and more of a visual feast of disturbing stop-motion images. The four stories begin with an adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s The Box about a family that goes through a change when one of the children stops eating. In The Birthday Party, a mother attempting to throw a birthday party for her child comes across a horrifying scene and decides to hide it from the partygoers. In Don’t Fall, four friends discover strange cave paintings while camping in the desert. In Her Only Living Son, a mother trying to protect her strange son as he gets closer to 18 begins to unravel.
The most incredible feat of XX is that, of the four stories, there isn’t a flat-out bad story among them. I really enjoyed The Box, Don’t Fall, and Her Only Living Son, whereas I didn’t love The Birthday Party, but The Birthday Party isn’t a bad story. It’s just good while the others are great. The thing about The Birthday Party is that I was more confused by what the hell was actually happening, and I thought there’d be more to it at the end.
The Box was an interesting short film based on the Jack Ketchum story. I haven’t been a huge fan of the very little amount of Ketchum work I’d read, but I loved how infuriating The Box was. It isn’t a fun short film. I was frustrated watching it, but I couldn’t look away, and it’s one of the best compliments I can give to the story.
Don’t Fall is, I believe the shortest of the shorts, and it’s a pretty strong outing that is very surface level but very well-crafted nonetheless. It’s just entertaining all around.
Her Only Living Son is an amalgam of a lot of things I’d been seeing throughout the earlier stories. There was frustration, there was confusion, there was technical achievement, and it was disturbing, strange and memorable all the same.
XX is a great collection of short films that mostly works throughout the entirety of its short runtime. My favorite short in the set is the first, The Box, but each one gives a lot to love and a lot to rewatch. It’s one of the best anthologies in recent years. Go see it.
-Kyle A. Goethe
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