Hello there connoisseurs of carnage, it’s Thakgore and today I’ll be reviewing the all female directed, anthology horror outing, “XX”. While stereotypically referred to as the “fairer sex”, women have proven time and again that they can delve just as deep into depravity as men. From Oscar award winning director Kathryn Bigelow’s “Near Dark”, to XX’s own Karyn Kusama’s “Jennifer’s Body”, women have definitively shown that they are more than capable of scaring us to pieces. Does the same apply to “XX”? Let’s find out.
Since this is an anthology film I’ll be breaking down each section individually and giving an individual rating to each one as well as an overall rating at the end.
Wrap-Around Segment (dir. Sofìa Carrillo) :
Normally in anthology films the wraparound segments add up to a single story that loosely ties the individual tales together and usually has something to do with them. In “XX” this convention is subverted. Telling the story of a dollhouse seeking to bring it’s owner to life, this stop-motion animation is appropriately creepy with a style reminiscent of an early Tool music video or something from the late 90’s MTV animation block. It was certainly a welcome surprise and I hardly minded that it had barely anything to do with the other parts of the movie. I was too busy enjoying myself to care.5 out of 5
The Box (dir. Jovanka Vucokic):
Former “Rue Morgue” editor Jovanka Vucokic brings us the first tale of terror based on a short story by famed author Jack Ketchum. As the story begins a mother (Natalie Brown) is coming home on the subway with her children when her son becomes enamored with a gift box carried by the strange looking man sitting beside him. While his mother chastises him for his curiosity the man gives him a peek at what’s inside. Later that night the boy refuses his dinner and begins to stop eating all together. The situation soon grows out of hand and begins to tear the family apart.
I found “The Box” to be beautifully shot and directed with decent acting and an engaging story. The only problem, and it’s a substantial one, is that the story is too big for the “box” they are trying to place it in. “The Box” is a “mood piece”. It tries to engage you with atmosphere and attempts to evoke a strong emotional response from you to distract from the fact that the central mystery remains unsolved. The short run-time necessitated by the anthology format doesn’t allow director Jovanka Vucokic the room she needs to properly bring this story to the screen. I understood the themes present in the piece, a mother’s desperation and frustration with her inability to help her family coupled with the nagging mystery of the titular box’s contents, but they didn’t land the way they needed to. I applaud the effort, but ultimately felt unsatisfied by this one.3 out of 5
The Birthday Party (dir. Annie Clark):
Starring the always wonderful Melanie Lynsky as Mary, a harried mother hiding a tragic secret while trying to throw a birthday party for her daughter, “The Birthday Party” was probably my favorite segment of them all. Filled with dark humor and palpable tension I found myself both laughing out loud and holding my breath alternatively throughout.
Director Annie Clark really nailed how overwhelmed Mary is with the dire situation she finds herself in and every odd decision she makes is perfectly explained by the superb performance of Melanie Lynsky. There are several times when the camera merely settles on her face and her ability to convey several complex emotions at once drives the narrative home beautifully. Capped by a wonderfully executed, dreamlike sequence and an ending that made me both cringe and guffaw like an idiot, “The Birthday Party” is undoubtedly the crown jewel of this film. 5 out of 5
Don’t Fall (dir. Roxanne Benjamin):
Having directed segments in the first two “V/H/S” movies as well as 2015’s colossally underrated “Southbound”, Roxanne Benjamin certainly has a pedigree when it comes to solid outings in the anthology horror field. “Don’t Fall” is no exception. About four friends who trespass on sacred ground and the tragic circumstances of their unknowing infringement, this segment is probably the most straightforward horror tale of the piece.
With impressive gore effects and a hero makeup that was appropriately disgusting and frightening, “Don’t Fall” was my second favorite segment and contains an ending that both delivers on the title and satisfies. I was also happy to see a steady hand in regards to balancing character development and brutal horror in such a short amount of time. It would have been easy to give us stock characters to be slaughtered while focusing on the blood and guts, but Benjamin deftly handles the task with the skill of a seasoned filmmaker. Bravo. If I had to pick something I didn’t enjoy it’s that the ending feels slightly rushed and the explanation for the character’s fate was a little vague. All in all though this one was pretty good. 4 out of 5
Her Only Living Son (dir. Karyn Kusama):
Positioned last, and brought to you by veteren filmmaker Karyn Kusama, “Her Only Living Son” is obviously meant to be the “main event” of “XX”. Expectations were high for me after Kusama’s “The Invitation” surprised me last year. This film tries to imagine what life might have been like for Rosemary if she had escaped the satanic cult and raised her baby on her own.
While I can appreciate the scope of what Kusama was attempting to bring to this piece it is constrained by the same problems as “The Box”. The story is just too big for the short run time of the film. I also had issues with a few of the scenes where the main character reacted in ways that seemed inconsistent with her motivations. She obviously, desperately wants for her son to escape his fate as the spawn of Satan, but when confronted with his true nature in an odd scene at the school she seems weirdly okay with the horrifying thing with which her son is accused and the despicable way the school handles it. Also, while I appreciate that this is supposed to be a character that is trying to remain strong against powerful forces her emotional struggle just doesn’t have the time it needs to play out properly. This left me feeling frustrated and confused by the ending, which is too abstract in my opinion. I would have liked to see this film stretched out into a feature because I found the premise intriguing and felt the only fault was that it just didn’t belong in this format. 3 out of 5
Ultimately I enjoyed “XX”. Despite some flaws it stands as a strong statement by a group of bold directors that all have a bright future in the genre. It is a solid entry into the “anthology horror” sub-genre and I would definitely recommend it. I give the entire outing a 4 out of 5.
“XX” is currently streaming on Amazon Video and VOD.