Directors: Roxanne Benjamin, Annie Clark, Karyn Kusama & Jovanka Vuckovic
Starring: Melanie Lynskey, Sheila Vand & Natalie Brown
Synopsis: Four short horror films that are directed and written by women.
Rating: 15 Duration: 78 minutes Release date: 8 May (UK)
Horror anthologies by their very nature are a mixed bag. The limited time they have on-screen and the mix of different directors means it’s not always easy to create a coherent, smooth flow from one short to the next. The best anthologies work when the individual stories combine to create a wider tale. XX takes the other route and each short is unrelated to the other and the final result is a real mixture of styles and quality.
The horror genre has long been a route into Hollywood for up and coming directors. The likes of Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson and James Cameron all launched their careers with low-budget efforts that made enough of an impact for them to go onto bigger things. Likewise, short films have often been used as a showcase of a directors talents. The difference with XX is that this an all-female led effort. Jovanka Vuckovic – The Box, Annie Clark – The Birthday Party, Roxanne Benjamin – Don’t Fall and Karyn Kusama – Her Only Living Son are the directors behind each film and are all worth keeping an eye on for the future.
It’s worth noting early on how different a woman’s eye is when directing a horror film, when compared to a male counterpart. There is no stalk and slash element here nor are there any damsels in distress. Their stories instead focus on motherhood, the loss of a husband, the never-ending worrying about your children and incessant nature of how competitive women can be with each other. These aspects are rarely explored because women are scarcely given the chance to do so and finding a male capable of finding such narrative is even more rare.
The Box is the first and arguably best short in XX. Focusing on a mother who slowly starts to lose her family to a mysterious bout of starvation. After her youngest son looks inside the box an old man possesses on the train home he suddenly loses his entire appetite and becomes ill. His sister and father soon succumb to the same symptoms when the boy whispers in their ear something that isn’t revealed to their mother or the audience. The Box works because despite being 20 minutes long, it has the feel of a full length film. The drama and tension are drawn perfectly and the sense of mystery is served just right – giving the audience enough without revealing everything.
The Birthday Party is a much strangers story. On the morning of her daughter’s birthday Mary finds her husband dead in his home office. Instead of calling the police or alerting their nanny, Mary instead attempts to hide the body so as not to ruin her daughters day. It’s an odd premise with an even more unusual delivery. The tone aims for black comedy, but appears more uneven as the short staggers to its conclusion. It’s not bad, but neither is it good and takes the pacing off a promising opening.
Don’t Fall delves into more familiar territory when a group of young adults go for a trek cross the desert. Stumbling upon a cave, the four find images engraved into the walls depicting a demon like creature. They pay little attention to the drawings, but soon one of their number is taken in the night while the others are sleeping. Don’t Fall is set-up well and doesn’t labour its point. The more direct approach pays dividends and the four actors do well to acclimatize in a small amount of time. There’s a The Hills Have Eyes feel here, with Don’t Fall feeling like a heartfelt throwback to the raw horror of the 70’s.
Her Only Living Son delves deeper than Don’t Fall and aims for a more psychological horror. Any mother has concerns when their son becomes a teenager; the mood swings, the outbursts, the fact he is the spawn of the devil. The short steps into the domain Rosemary’s Baby as a single mother has to deal with the fact that her son is not the sweet and innocent child he once was. Her Only Living Son doesn’t hit the heights it is aiming for, but nonetheless it is a solid entry with some interesting points thrown in.
It would be harsh to be too critical of XX. It has two good entries and two average to poor entries, but it has a unique viewpoint and the fact that shorts are all directed by women allows the film to say that things that horror films normally wouldn’t. The animation in between segments is eerily creepy and the whole thing feels more humbling than fulfilling resulting in a noble effort by all.
- Behind the scenes
- Director interviews
The behind the scenes feature on the disc is informative, but at 03:30 minutes long it doesn’t last long enough to get to the meat and bones of the different segments. The directors all give their views, while Sofia Carrrillo shares some insight into her excellent animation sequences that segue into each film.
The director interviews are longer at 07:18, 04:51 and 06:29 minutes. All four directors are interviewed as is Sofia Carrillo. Each interview lets us in on what process they had to follow as they each give their views on creating this all female led anthology. Again, it’s a shame these don’t last longer and rather than split them up a single, concise behind the scenes look may have been more welcome.