15 – 80mins – 2017
A horror anthology comprising four grisly vignettes directed by female filmmakers, XX is commendable for none of the quadruple strands overtly capitalising on the USP with dominant feminist themes. These are simply isolated genre tales which just so happen to have women at the helm. Even Sofia Carrillo’s kooky stop-motion animated wrap around featuring a walking dollhouse resuscitating a clockwork girl has no correlations to the embedded stories, simply establishing an eerie, off-kilter aura.
Opener THE BOX by Jovanka Vuckovic is a mysterious creation. Its Christmas time and nosy kid Danny asks a stranger clutching a red present on the subway what is in his box. We never learn what Danny sees, but it noticeably shakes him, taking away his appetite. As the days go on and much to his parent’s concern, Danny’s appetite doesn’t return and he never touches his food. When he eventually divulges his secret to his sister and father, they too discard food, to the worrying extent that all bar mother Susan are hospitalised and, eventually, pass away. None the wiser to the secret of the box, Susan begins a quest to track down the subway passenger who decimated her family…
Annie Clark’s THE BIRTHDAY PARTY is, if anything, even more minimal and modest in its reach. On the day of her daughter Lucy’s 7th birthday, Mary discovers and attempts to conceal the body of her overdosed husband’s body from a gaggle of gathered friends and parents. Establishing a strained atmosphere between mother and nanny Carla even before the suicide is seen, there is a dark, farcical humour behind Mary’s ludicrous attempts to hide a corpse in plain sight. Playing out very much like an episode of macabre BBC comedy series Inside No. 9, Clark intensifies the soundtrack as Mary’s ruse teeters on the verge of discovery.
In DON’T FALL, Roxanne Benjamin follows four teenage friends on a walking holiday off the beaten track in the desert. Coming across an ancient cave painting depicting what appears to be a devil (“Maybe it’s cursed?”), easily wound-up Gretchen is attacked and possessed by a supernatural creature. As darkness falls, the three remaining mates are picked off one-by-one in scenes sadly too dark to decrypt.
Saving the most ambitious for last, Karyn Kasama’s HER ONLY LIVING SON makes the most of its limited runtime, establishing not only a backstory, but also a beginning, middle and undeniable end to this story of a single mother and her rebellious teenage son, as he turns 18 and reveals his true nature. With shades of Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen, rotten Andy’s transformation into the spawn of Satan and Cora’s desperate, despairing denial of a former “agreement” with Andy’s ‘real’ father is delightful sinister and ends XX on a high.
While second sequel Viral heavily disappointed and somewhat besmirched the legacy of the first two films, V/H/S was undeniably a landmark in communal cinema. It’s a shame that XX didn’t attempt a more cohesive frame narrative akin to the hunt for the videotape, because such interwoven ingenuity would surely have elevated even the less successful stories in this collection (DON’T FALL). But taken for what it is, there is some polished and powerful storytelling on display here from some deliciously dark minds, and I would happy watch more from each of these filmmakers, even if this first effort lacked a final, killer component.
CR@B’s Claw Score: