The horror anthology film, XX, has garnered attention from both the mainstream and indie horror media for positing four female directors at the helm and achieving killer results. Despite some of the project’s limitations, the attention is much-deserved: XX is a polished, entertaining, morbidly humorous, and at times scary film. Rather than relying on a framing device that attempts to tie the segments together, the picture moves rapidly from one piece to another (although intriguing stop-motion animation helps to transition between the segments). Directors Annie Clark, Karyn Kusama, Roxanne Benjamin, and Jovanka Vuckovic present their stories in different ways, and each segment provides a unique kind of horror-movie jolt.
Vuckovic opens the anthology with “The Box,” a chilling tale of family dysfunction and parental terror based on a short story by Jack Ketchum. After Danny (Peter DaCunha) is allowed a glimpse into a man’s Christmas gift box, the young boy grows eerily quiet and withdrawn, refusing to eat over the next several days and worrying his mother (Natalie Brown) and father (Jonathan Watton). The mysterious ailment spreads throughout the family, infecting everyone except the mother, a tortured woman forced to watch her husband and children turn into near-skeletons. In a morbid twist, “The Box” juxtaposes images of delicious food with bodies slowly crumbling away (that the ailment affects children makes the segment that much more disturbing). While the narrative ends as ambiguously as it begins, Vuckovic balances well the body horror and the grotesque humor, making for an effective start to the anthology.
In XX’s most quirky segment, Annie Clark directs “The Birthday Party,” a darkly comic tale of a woman named Mary (Melanie Lynskey) who attempts to throw a birthday party for her young daughter while trying to hide the fact that her husband has just died inside his home office. From the set design to the costumes, Clark uses ‘60s-inspired pastels to mock the fumbled attempt at family joy and picture-perfect celebration. The climax, presented in slow-motion, is delightfully ghoulish, leaving viewers to wonder how a group of children and their awestruck parents are going to deal with the aftermath. “The Birthday Party” might not seem to fit into a horror anthology, but that’s also the artistic beauty behind the project. Instead of a singular tone that lasts for 90-minutes or more, XX keeps the audience on its toes with unpredictable interpretations of the genre.
In the anthology’s most outright horror tale, Roxanne Benjamin directs “Don’t Fall,” a scary creature-feature that showcases excellent special effects and genuine scares. Though the limited time-span of the segment prevents major character development, Benjamin crafts a lean story about a camping trip that descends into terror when a group of likable college kids are faced with an ancient destructive force. “Don’t Fall” is a fast-paced and fun, giving audiences a memorable monster and providing the anthology with an explosive burst of energy and full-throttle terror.
Karyn Kusama, who directed the eerie The Invitation (2015), rounds out XX with a disturbing story of satanic terror, “Her Only Living Son.” With shades of The Omen (1976), the segment stars Christina Kirk as a mother to a teenage boy (Kyle Allen) on the precipice of adulthood. However, Andy’s 18th birthday party has more to do with a deal with the devil and the boy’s physical transformation into something inhuman than it does with the birthday cake his mother so dutifully bakes. The climax is gruesome and heartbreaking, ending the anthology in somber and grand style.
XX is an impressive collection of cinematic horror stories, confidently directed and performed. Each segment offers something interesting and entertaining for the audience, echoing common horror tropes while also presenting bits and pieces that are new. As with the V/H/S anthology series, hopefully there will be an XX sequel that can continue to highlight directors at the top of their game.