I started running AnythingHorror.com back in 2009. Since 2009, I’ve repeated two things time and again. Firstly, the indie horror scene will be the future of the genre, and secondly, the genre needs more of a woman’s perspective. When I came across the anthology film, XX, I was more than excited (in fact, I’ve been patiently waiting for it to drop for over a year). XX is an all female directed anthology where four talented women were given free reign to create a short horror film to be included. My anticipation was high and my expectations were big. Unfortunately, this anthology failed to grab me and left me feeling overall disappointed. Let’s see what went wrong.
The first story is, “The box,” and is directed by Jovanka Vuckovic and is based on an original story by Jack Ketchum. In it, a mother, Susan (Natalie Brown), and her two young children, Danny (Peter DaCunha) and Jenny (Peyton Kennedy), are on a commuter train. Danny sits next to a man (Michael Dyson) who has a large box on his lap. The box is wrapped and looks like a birthday gift. Danny asks the man about the box and he leans over and whispers something in his ear. The boys’ eyes grow wide as he sits in silence for the rest of the train ride. That night at dinner, Danny said he wasn’t hungry and sat there while the rest of the family ate. Danny’s dad, Robert (Jonathan Watton), is concerned about Danny, but he lets it go. Five days later, Danny still hasn’t eaten anything. His dad is extremely concerned, but oddly enough, his mom doesn’t seem all that worried by it for some reason.
After Danny shares with his sister the secret the man on the train told him, Jenny then loses her appetite and stops eating as well. Eventually, Danny tells his father the secret and Robert also stops eating. In the second half of the film, we get an odd cannibal dream sequence, and then we watch as Danny, Jenny, and Robert slowly die from not eating.
“The Box” is the second strongest entry in this anthology, but it is far from a perfect short. The acting is strong by the entire cast, and the f/x, especially during the cannibal dream sequence, were excellent. But the story itself feels choppy–almost as though chucks of the story were left out. By the end of the film I was scratching my head wondering what the point was. Obviously. whatever the old man told Danny was the catalyst that sparked all the events, but that aspect of the plot was never re-addressed. Director Jovanka Vuckovic, who you may know from her six and a half year stint as the editor of the horror magazine Rue Morgue, is a hugely talented filmmaker and does give us a very well-shot film. The ending, though, needed some work and could’ve made this the best film in the anthology.
The next entry is “The Birthday Party,” directed by Annie Clark (aka, St. Vincent). I didn’t connect with this story at all. In it, a mother, Mary (Melanie Lynskey), is setting up for her daughter Lucy’s (Sanai Victoria), birthday party. There’s also a nanny (Sheila Vand)–at least I think she’s a nanny–who seems to hate Mary. As Mary is setting up, she discovers that her husband has either killed himself or has accidentally overdosed on pills. The rest of the short plays out like an episode of Three’s Company, as Mary tries to hide the body of her dead husband as the party takes place. Why she’s trying to cover up the death of her husband is a mystery. She did nothing criminally wrong. Mary even puts her dead hubby is a panda suit and sits him at the kitchen table during the party, where all the young children are sitting. Why?? This story just doesn’t go anywhere and it defies logic. Add to this the fact that the soundtrack doesn’t match up what is happening on screen (tense, suspenseful music that accompanies the almost slapstick antics on the screen), and you’ve got a pretty bad misfire here.
The next short film, “Don’t Fall,” gives us a creature feature entry in this anthology. This one is written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin and follows a pretty standard creature formula. Two couples are out camping in a remote area when they come across some odd etchings carved into a rock wall. Gretchen (Breeda Wool), scratches her hand on the etchings and before you can say, “I see where this is going,” she transforms into a bloody-thirsty creature and kills all her mates. It’s not a bad short, but it definitely isn’t anything you haven’t seen before. Considering the XX anthology is being promoted as having an all female crew, it would’ve been nice to see this standard horror trope given some kind of feminine twist. There is none.
Finally, we get to the strongest entry in the anthology, “Her Only Living Son.” This one is directed by Karyn Kusama, who directed the 2005 film adaptation of Aeon Flux and 2000s Girlfight, starring Michelle Rodriguez. Cora (Christina Kirk) has been raising her son, Andy (Kyle Allen), alone. The father is some big Hollywood actor who chose his successful career over family. Andy is close to turning eighteen and has been exhibiting increasingly bizarre behavior. What kind of behavior, you ask? For one, he tore one student’s fingernails out for no reason. Yeah!! What is really odd, though, is that many people around town are protecting Andy. The mailman seems to be very interested in how Andy is, and the school principal punishes the student who had her nails ripped out and sends Andy home with a smile. Why? As the principal says, “Andy has revealed himself to be a very special boy.” Yup, we quickly realize that Andy is the Anti-Christ and it seems his mom knows this. There’s few fun little twists, and the story unfolds beautifully. Add to this some strong acting and f/x, and “Her Only Living Son,” is easily the funnest story in the anthology.
Overall, XX is a fun anthology, but the talent involved really missed out on the main element that made this anthology so appealing–the female perspective. Other than the final story, “Her Only Living Son,” there is no dominant female perspective in any of the stories. Sure, the killer in “Don’t Fall” is a female, and all the leads in all the stories are females, but I can list at least a dozen other films that had better female characters. This is the main reason I am disappointed with XX. It promised an all female crew and dangled having some great stories with a strong female perspective/view. In the end, though, all we get is a rather bland and standard anthology that just so happens to be directed by four talented female directors.
Directors: Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama, Jovanka Vuckovic, and Annie Clark (a.k.a., St. Vincent)
Plot:2.5 out of 5 stars (for the overall anthology)
Gore: 5 out of 10 skulls (for the overall anthology)
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains (for the overall anthology)
Reviewed by Scott Shoyer