What do spooky dollhouses, dead bodies at birthday parties, starving to death, evil cave spirits, and the Antichrist’s mom all have in common? These juicy ingredients are all part of the delicious horror anthology stew that 2017’s “XX” sets forth on the dinner table. This smart, but somewhat uneven hodgepodge of terror tales strives to be a kind of “feminist Creepshow” and when it works, it insures a few nasty nightmare in your future.
The film is an anthology that breaks down into four segments framed by a sinister and animated dollhouse (possibly one of the movie’s creepier elements) created by Sofia Carrillo. You’re first met with”The Box,” written and directed by Jovanka Vuckovic deals with a mysterious box whose contents cause a family to slowly go mad and starve themselves. “The Birthday Party,” written by Roxanne Benjamin and Annie Clark (AKA musician St. Vincent) and directed by Clark deals with a mother trying to keep a dead body hidden from the guests at her daughter’s birthday party. (Dark comedy at its finest.) “Don’t Fall,” written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin shows what evil lurks in the depths of caves and psyche but proves to be the weakest of the quartet due to its unoriginality. Finally we are met with “Her Only Living Son,” written and directed by Karyn Kusama which asks the question every mother fears, “What do you do when your teenage son realizes he’s the Antichrist?” However, we’ve heard that question asked before and received much more interesting answers.
In my opinion, Vuckovic’s “The Box” and Benjamin and Clark’s “The Birthday Party” stand as the high watermarks for this series. Both are well written and contain a number of startling concepts that will stay with you long after the movie ends. The sens of gallows humor in “The Birthday Party” will have you torn between laughing and crying, which is a serious feat in modern cinema. The other two shorts are less successful only because they are less original and most horror aficionados will be expecting more than the relatively simple cut and paste narratives that are present.
Much of the film’s hype and controversy revolves around its feminist underpinnings and the concept of horror stories from a woman’s POV. Some might argue that women have always played a huge role in the horror genre, but I think it’s safe to say that much of that role consists of characters that have been written exclusively by men and fail to truly represent a departure from a mostly male dominated genre or male-centric POV. That being said, this film does not always rise to the promise of a feminist renaissance in the field of horror because of the unevenness in some of the tales. Certainly a movie where all the stories are written and directed by women is a rarity in the horror making world and this movie is an excellent exercise in presenting unique and powerful female voices. I can only hope that this movie leads to feature film projects for all of its participants.
Overall, I give this movie a B- because it does manage to accomplish much, however lackluster that might be. Rated R.