Mysterious ailments, black comedies, monster stories, and tales of Satan’s spawn, who doesn’t love a good anthology film?! For this week’s installment I take a look at the new horror anthology flick that is definitely making a statement. This is my Sunday with… “XX”.
Release Date: February 17, 2017
Run Time: 80 minutes
Rob’s Score: 8/10
This past Wednesday the UMU crew had the honor of screening a new anthology horror film at Nitehawk cinemas in Brooklyn. Unlike most anthologies this output was unique in that it was directed by four females, something that unfortunately is not common in the horror or even Hollywood landscape. The anthology film, especially of the horror variety is, in most cases a mixed bag. On the surface the idea of different director bringing their twisted and disturbing visions together is a fan’s dream, however in many cases it falls short. Films like the ABC’s of Death and VHS have helped bring prominence back to the anthology film but several of the segments suffer from the same thing, and that is essentially time. It is very hard to show a complete vision in a short time frame. Even the most talented of film makers would have trouble getting their entire premise across in a 10-13 minute time frame. This is one of the many places that XX excels. Having only four different segments each director had the time to truly show off their story telling abilities. Each director brought their own unique vision and twist to the table and in the end we have a beautiful showcasing of the abilities of these women. Due to the anthology theme and newness of this film, I will be constructing this article a little differently as I will be breaking down each segment separately and with as little “spoiler” as possible.
Director: Jovanka Vuckovic
The Box is the first output we get, and in all honesty, my favorite. Susan, her daughter Jenny, and son Danny are coming home from a day in the city. It is nearing Christmas time and Danny is in full gift fever. The man next to Danny is holding a red gift wrapped box. In his curiosity Danny asks the man if he could see what is inside and the man is more than happy to oblige him. After that, life for Susan and her family drastically change. The Box comes out of the gate swinging, jumping right into this odd tale that was based upon a Jack Ketchum (Dallas Mayr) short story. Vuckovic is magical in her direction, building the feeling of dread and suspense with each new scene. The mystery of the box and its final effect keeps viewers heavily invested. Vuckovic mixes mystery, body horror, and even poignant moments of humor that result in a tale that keeps the audience hungry for more (those who see it will get this pun) long after the segment ends.
Director: Annie Clark
Birthday Party marks the directorial debut of Annie Clark, also known as the very talented St. Vincent (highly recommend giving her a listen). Birthday Party wins the award for worst kids party ever as we meet Mary, a mother who is trying to pull off a wonderful day for little Lucy. However, fate has other plans as things quickly go off track with the discovery of what’s behind the office door. Birthday Party is a black comedy that masterfully breaks the more straight forward horror of the rest of the film. There are no demons or evil here, just the portrayal of life and how cruel it can be. Even though this was her directorial debut, Clark beautifully tells a tale of a mother’s heart break being over shadowed by her need to give her daughter a special day (with a hilariously life scarring outcome). Clark shows the skill of a grizzled veteran by not only playing on what the audience see’s, but by also planting the seeds of Mary’s own issue’s both personally and in her marriage. This film also plays on the notion of suburbia and how what seems important really isn’t when faced with a real situation. The music, as expected, is great and completely captures the climax scene. The end result is black comedy gold that of all the films perfectly fit the anthology setting; it was a complete concise story from beginning to end.
Director: Roxanne Benjamin
Four friends take a hiking/camping trip into an area where they do not belong where they discover an ancient cave paintings depicting an evil creature and you can probably guess what happens next. Don’t Fall is a no frills straightforward kids get lost and end up dead story, and that is the brilliance of it. Roxanne Benjamin doesn’t try to break the mold here, instead delivering a set up that we have seen countless times, but only improving upon it. In her short time frame, we completely understand each character (who’s the wild stoner, who’s the scaredy cat), their relationship to each other, and in all honesty how this will all play out. Don’t Fall gives us our only “monster” of the anthology and it doesn’t disappoint. With creaky quick shot movements, sharp claws and all those teeth, the demon is actually quite scary. Benjamin also delivers what are the most beautiful visuals of the anthology, using the starry desert night sky and landscape to her advantage. Don’t Fall is almost beautiful in its simplicity, delivering a plot we are familiar with, but in a satisfying manner, think a condensed version of The Evil Dead. It is also worth noting that Benjamin co-wrote Birthday Party with Annie Clark, showing just how versed she is in the sub-genre’s of horror.
Her Only Living Son
Director: Karyn Kusama
Andy is about to turn 18, and in the apex of his rebellious youth stage. His mother Cora is trying her best to give him the love, and good life they both deserve. The closer to his birthday, Cora is left to her own devices to save her son and herself, as he becomes more violent and starts going through changes. It is no secret that I love the work of Karyn Kusama and it was her name that put my curiosity of this project over the top. Throughout her filmography she has proven to be a maestro of depicting human emotion and situations, and that was all in effect here. Through her beautiful story telling we can feel not only the strained relationship between Cora and Andy, but also Cora’s maternal instincts to protect and love her son. This has the ability to touch the audience on a personal level. Kusama also beautifully builds the feeling of tension and uneasiness through Cora’s interactions with her neighbors that leads to a very powerful climax. Some nice creature effects add to the overall success of this segment, but it is Kusama’s ability to demonstrate real emotion that puts this one over the top. In the end, it is a tale of a mother’s undying love for her son, and when it’s over I expect you all to go home and give your mother a hug!
Opening/ Ending Credits/ Interlude Scenes
Director: Sofia Carrillo
I had to add this as a bonus, as the credit scenes, as well as the interluding scenes between segments were a perfect combination of unsettling and creepy. Sofia Carrillo served as art director in several films and her skills are showcased here as we are bombarded by quirky motions of old broken toys and insects. These scenes were both visually impressive, as well as setting the proper tone for the film as a whole.
XX is a standout not only in the horror game, but in the larger landscape of female directors in Hollywood. This past week the EEOC (equal employment opportunity commission) announced that they are investigating several big movie studios for discriminating against female directors. This is a mindset I’ve always had a hard time understanding, if something is good or someone is qualified, it shouldn’t matter if they have an xx or an xy chromosome, just my opinion. There are many very good female directors out there who unfortunately do not get the recognition they deserve (all of the one’s mentioned here, as well as the Soska sisters), and many more who are not even given the opportunity, and that is a damn shame. Especially in the world of horror, for the most part, women are subjugated to the role of the “damsel in distress.” We often get the “final girl,” but she always fits into a specific stereotyped character. XX is a huge step in breaking not only this trend of character, but also this mindset that women can’t do horror. This film showcased each director’s unique point of view and style and will hopefully stand as a rallying point not only for more women to enter the horror game, but also for audiences and studios alike to put more women in directorial places. From a fan point of view, this film completely satisfied any sub-genre of horror you enjoy most, and I can only hope this spawns a couple sequels, giving the light to more talented women.
XX is not only a great experience in the world of anthology horror, but delivers a statement about how kick ass and talented female directors can be when given the chance. I would absolutely suggest supporting this film, whether it is for women’s rights or just your love of good horror. This film has something for everyone and is definitely worth the view.
XX is available now in select theaters, as well as VOD.
(Rob Texter – @GrundyXIII)