XX is a four-part horror anthology, directed solely by women, that premiered at Sundance in January of this year. Comprised of four distinct short films that run about 20 minutes each, XX gives us chilling tales set in classic settings all told from a female perspective. Although it gives us nothing revolutionary vis-à-vis storytelling, it gives us a whole new perspective that is rarely, if ever, used in horror. A woman’s.
The film is interwoven with eerie stop-motion segments (done by Sofia Carrillo) of a walking dollhouse with a macabre face that wanders through a dilapidated house. These segments frame the shorts with a haunting beauty that leaves you restless.
The Box, based on a story by Jack Ketchum and adapted for the screen and directed by Jovanka Vukovic, follows an ordinary, suburban family that is faced with an elusive horror. Voiced over by a seemingly strained Susan (Natalie Brown), the mother of two rides the train back home with her two children, Danny (Peter DaCunha) and Jenny (Peyton Kennedy) around Christmas time. A restless Danny, asks a strange man sitting next to them who is holding a red box, what he is carrying. The man complies with the request and shows him what the box contains. (The audience is, naturally, kept in the dark.) From that point on, Danny refuses to eat and refuses to tell anyone what was in the box.The tension escalates beautifully as things spiral out around a stoic, albeit blasé Susan.The story itself is unfortunately left unresolved and raises more questions than it gives answers. It is visually enticing and builds unnerving tension only to leave us wanting. It could be debated what is actually in the box, but in the end, it doesn’t really matter since it leaves you unsettled and for lack of better terms, freaked the f*** out. However, that is not enough and The Box comes off as some suburban fever dream with a hidden metaphor that has no conclusion.
The Birthday Party, written by Annie Clark and Roxanne Benjamin and directed by Annie Clark, is another tale of suburban horror. Mary, played by Melanie Lynskey, scrambles to get herself together before her daughter’s birthday party with help from a creepy housekeeper/nanny/who-knows-what portrayed by Sheila Vand. From the very beginning of the film, you can feel something is very off. Tension builds as more vague information is given to the audience and Mary stumbles across her husband’s body. The Birthday Party manages to elegantly juxtapose suburban normalcy with subtle, nightmarish moments. Although fairly flat story-wise, Lynskey and Vand’s impeccable performances keep us at the edge of our seats.
The third installment of XX, Don’t Fall, is written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin and follows four friends on a camping trip in the desert. Don’t Fall plays with the classic horror trope of college kids goofing around on a camping trip as chaos and death cut their fun short. Character staples like the virgin, stoner, slut, and nerd all get a hipster makeover in this story of taking jokes one step too far. The film begins with all four friends hiking in an idyllic desert setting, razzing each other as they reach the top of a small mountain. They come across bizarre cave paintings which are, of course, a warning. Naturally, it ends bloody. Albeit not particularly original, Don’t Fall is satisfying and gruesome. The cast features Brenda Wool, Morgan Krantz, Angela Trimbur and Casey Adams.
Her Only Living Son, written and directed by Karyn Kusama is a Damian-esque film that follows Cora (Christina Kirk), a struggling, single mother who is forced to come to terms with her son’s diabolical lineage. Cora fights against her past decisions as her son Andy, portrayed by Kyle Allen, begins to lash out in violent and disturbing ways. Kirk’s performance is powerful and mesmerizing as we witness the horrifying plight Cora has to face and the decision she must ultimately make, saving her son whether he is a monster or not.
XX is visually stunning and hauntingly beautiful. These films leave us with many questions. However, lacking in story as they may be, these four films are skillfully executed and leave us disturbed. Which is, in the end, what we as an audience seek when watching horror movies.
XX is now available on Netflix.