XX (2017)

Directed By: Misc
Written By: Misc
Starring: Natalie Brown
  Jonathan Watton
  Peter DaCunha
  Peyton Kennedy

I’m not sure which is more rare; a film that so overtly celebrates womanhood both on- and off-camera, or a horror anthology film which is actually so, for the most part at least, consistently good. XX – nodding to the chromosome combination, for those of you at the back not paying attention – is a compilation of four shorter films, each directed by – you guessed it – a woman.

Tied together by a wonderfully creepy stop-motion animation by Mexican animator Sofia Carrillo, featuring a quadrupedal doll’s house stirring to life in a desolate Victorian mansion, the four stories explore a number of fairly familiar tales, but from a thoroughly female perspective.

The first film, The Box, based on a short story by The Girl Next Door’s Jack Ketchum, opens with a family riding the train home after a day’s shopping. The son notices a rather sinister-looking man nearby, holding a brightly giftwrapped present. His curiosity getting the better of him, he asks the stranger what’s inside, and the stranger obliges him with a brief look. The smile drops from the son’s face, and over the next few days his family notice his sudden and complete loss of appetite, which gradually spreads to his sister and father over the following week. Consumed by curiosity, his mother is lead on a journey to find the man they once met on the train, and to find out what was truly in that box…

It’s a very strong opener. Filled with a genuine sense of dread and some pretty great special effects, director Jovanka Vuckovic manages to maintain a very palpable tension throughout its 25-minute run-time.

Followed swiftly on its heels is the directorial debut of Anne Clarke, better known by her stage name, St Vincent; The Birthday Party. It follows the story of an overbearing mother desperately trying to make sure her daughter’s birthday party goes without a hitch, who discovers that her husband has inconveniently decided to pass on in the office. What follows is a short film that is considerably more light-hearted in tone than its predecessor, as the mother desperately tries to find a place to hide the body until she can deal with it properly later. Melanie Lynskey has tightly-wound down to a tee, and The Birthday Party features a punchline that genuinely made me laugh out loud.

The third film of XX is more standard horror fare, and is arguably the weakest. Directed by Southbound’s Roxanne Benjamin, Don’t Fall opens on four friends camping out in the American wilderness, who discover a sinister-looking pictograph on a cliff face. That night, something starts attacking the group’s RV. Don’t Fall features some likeable protagonists (annoyingly quite a rarity in many horror movies) and some pretty excellent creature effects, but is ultimately a little let down by how generic it feels.

Bumping XX over the finish line is Her Only Living Son, directed by The Invitation’s Karyn Kusama. It’s perhaps the most explicitly “feminine” of the quadrilogy, heavily dealing with the burdens and responsibilities of motherhood as well as the innate strength it has, and follows the story of a beleaguered and single mother whose son is starting to dramatically change for the worse as he turns 18. Echoing a number of films that explore similar themes, Kusama creates quite an emotionally-charged film in the short time she has.

All in all, XX stands head and shoulders above the anthology movies of recent memory; it’s easy to decry anthologies for their lack of character development and such, but I feel it’s unfair to judge them in the same light as feature films, and instead judge them for what they are; a collection of short films. With that of course comes all the pitfalls that short films have – including a lack of character depth and development – but it also carries the benefits; the ability to pack a punch – whether an emotional punch, a humorous punch, whatever – in a short space of time, and this is something that all four shorts in this anthology do mostly remarkably well.

Rating: ★★★★★★★☆☆☆

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