There’s typically a push and pull that occurs in most horror anthology films. A major factor in this is the fact that most of these anthology films serve as a showcase for emerging filmmakers, and their disparate sensibilities can lead to an uneven movie as a whole. Those typical problems don’t emerge in XX, the latest horror anthology movie which features four shorts helmed by female directors. There’s not a weak link in the quartet of shorts within XX, and the different personalities ensure that the movie is able to cover every aspect of horror.
The first short is The Box, which is writer-director Jovanka Vucokic’s adaptation of a story by Jack Ketchum. On a subway train with his mother Susan (Natalie Brown), Danny (Peter DaCunha) peers into a stranger’s box and suddenly loses his appetite. Days pass and the young boy refuses lunch and dinner, despite the variety of appetizing meals placed in front of him. Susan and her husband Robert (Jonathan Watton) are increasingly dismayed at their son’s reluctance to eat. It’s only a matter of time before Danny tells his sister Jenny (Peyton Kennedy) about the contents of the box and soon she loses her desire to eat as well. The Box is just a creepy piece of mystery filmmaking. What was in that box that it could deprive people of their will to eat? The central mystery of The Box is never revealed and it’s really unimportant in the grand scheme of the unsettling nature of the story.
Second is The Birthday Party, which is the best of the bunch within XX. This marks the directorial debut of Annie Clark, whom some may know as the musician St. Vincent. In this short that Clark co-wrote with Roxanne Benjamin, Mary (Melanie Lynskey) is preparing for her daughter’s birthday party. However, Mary’s husband is away on a trip and she has had an affair with another man. Further complicating matters, this man has died overnight due to a deadly cocktail of pharmaceuticals. As the plans start to fall into place for the party, Mary must frantically do her best to hide the body from the prying eyes of her daughter (Sanai Victoria) and her housekeeper (Sheila Vand). The Birthday Party isn’t so much a horror short as much as it’s just a pitch black comedy, and the escalation of events raises the tension and the comedic stakes before reaching its twisted apex.
The third installment of the film is Don’t Fall, written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin. This segment encapsulate the pure visceral horror of the genre, as a quartet of hipsters (played by Breeda Wool, Morgan Krantz, Angela Trimbur, and Casey Adams) go to a remote camping location and discover something horrific. Benjamin sets the stage by introducing all of the characters and the natural locations where they’re setting up camp. But then the director quickly shifts gears and Don’t Fall becomes the most purely terrifying segment within XX. All of the shorts within XX are strong pieces of filmmaking, but Don’t Fall is the one that raises your heartbeat with its frightening intensity.
Finally, there’s Her Only Living Son, the short written and directed by Karyn Kusama. Cora (Christina Kirk) is a single mom raising her son Andy (Kyle Allen) in a dusty little suburb. There’s a dark side to Andy that Cora is doing her best not to notice. Andy is prone to killing animals, gets into trouble at school for violent behavior, and his teenage moodiness has him taking out his rage on his mother. For all the trouble that Andy gets himself into, there seem to be a number of people willing to completely ignore his ghastly behavior. Perhaps the passes that Andy receives are due to his father, who is never seen but we’re told has moved on to a successful life in Hollywood. Kusama’s short slowly escalates the creepiness at its heart before reaching a startling conclusion, and the director really brings the influences of Rosemary’s Baby to the domestic creepiness of Her Only Living Son.
XX really captures so many different aspects of horror, with shorts that capture unsettling mystery, pitch black comedy, pure visceral terror, and Satanic terror. The flow of this horror anthology is much smoother than Southbound, the most recent horror anthology. There’s really something for every kind of horror fan within XX, and it’s simply a load of devilish fun to behold as each short is brisk and well-paced. There’s nothing in XX that overstays its welcome or seems to leave aspects of their stories unrealized. This is an anthology horror film that really showcases a lot of emerging talent behind the camera, and the fact that these four filmmaker are all women never even approaches gimmickry – these are all talented filmmakers. The only firmly established filmmaker in this roster of talent is Karyn Kusama, who scored an indie hit with The Invitation last year and has been working as a director for two decades. As for the other filmmakers of XX, each of them has made a contribution to the film that warrant feature film consideration – I want a pure horror film from Roxanne Benjamin, a mystery from Jovanka Vuckovich, and dark comedy from Annie Clark. At present, XX just seems like a tease of the greatness to come. But it’s a delightfully twisted tease.