Horror is a genre that works best in small doses. That’s not to discount the power and effect of the long form; both the novel and the feature film have a long history within horror, and the slow burn of a well-crafted work can linger in the psyche for some time after the story ends. However, the short form packs an incomparable wallop, allowing for stories that burrow into the unconscious and take root in our darkest corners, waiting to be awakened at, if you’re lucky, the most inopportune moments.
While the internet is awash in emerging talent trying their hands at short works of horror, the best place to find quality short form horror movies remains the anthology. Thankfully, we live in an era where anthology horror pictures are in vogue once more; these days we’ve got no shortage of anthology films looking to fill our personal niches with as much horror as we can possible handle. But none of them are quite like XX.
Horror, like all of film, is still very much a man’s game. That’s not to say there aren’t ladies out there grabbing the demon by the horns and getting shit done, but horror has always been woefully inadequate at both portraying females and giving them a chance to shine as filmmakers. XX is a masked, chainsaw wielding psychopath on the hunt for glass ceilings, and no one is safe from the carnage. Here, four talented women helm four terrifying tales which mine the depths of sub-genres to offer a sadly unique take on the anthology format.
Sadly, because there aren’t more opportunities for women in horror (or, again, film in general). Sadly, because this is still a conversation we have to have. Sadly, because there are still those among you who will dismiss this movie out of pocket for its concept alone.
As politicized as this movie feels, however, there’s nothing political about the stories themselves. The four ladies of XX form a powerful alliance against Hollywood’s male dominated culture, bucking completely the idea that women are incapable of either directing or producing quality scares. Each brings a unique vision of horror to the table, each with their own flair and style that makes for a great and enduring anthology film.
Each segment offers viewers a different kind of horror. Jovanka Vuckovic’s opening salvo, “The Box,” is a stark meditation on parenthood from the mind of Jack Ketchum, exploring horror as an existential crisis when a mother’s son stops eating. Annie Clarke, known best as eclectic musician St. Vincent, makes her directorial debut with “The Birthday Party,” a sort of horror-of-errors that unfolds as a suburban mother tries to throw her daughter the perfect birthday while concealing a body. Roxanne Benjamin evokes the spirit of the classic creature features in “Don’t Fall,” in which four friends retreat to a secluded camping ground and awaken an ancient evil. Karyn Kusama rounds out the film with “Her Only Living Son,” about a mother coming to terms with her sociopathic son who might be hiding a greater evil.
As with any anthology, XX has its ups and downs. Horror tastes are as diverse as horror tales, and not every story will appeal to every watcher. That’s also a big part of the fun of this format. It’s interesting to see writers and directors explore what horror means, even if what’s unfolding doesn’t necessarily speak to your personal fears or interests. The four tales found here do a remarkable job at mining the depths of horror subgenres, and every horror fan will probably find at least one segment that they enjoy.
That this is a film with a mission should be immaterial. Yes, the stated purpose is to allow women the chance to direct stories about women. Ultimately what matters is the work that’s being produced, and the work produced here is often remarkable. Particularly surprising was Clarke’s turn, which finds the musician turned director taking the distinct visual style found in her music videos to new heights. Her segment is played out almost as a comedy—which makes sense, given that horror and comedy both stem from similar sources—with a punchline so delicious that the horror of it won’t hit until sometime later. Vuckovic’s adaptation of Ketchum’s classic short story, meanwhile, features one of the most memorable, and horrifying, images in the entire film, and it’s sure to stick with you throughout XX and beyond.
Really, each segment offers its own memorable and terrifying moments, all of which add up to the whole of a quality anthology film. XX is a wonderfully memorable entry into the format that just so happens to serve an important purpose. The female perspective has long been marginalized in the filmmaking world, doubly so for horror. XX not only provides a platform for women to showcase their talents, it does so while scaring the shit out of you at the same time. That’s a win no matter how you look at it.
XX is now playing in limited theatrical release and is available on demand and iTunes.