NOTE: This review originally ran as part of our Sundance 2017 coveragePLOT: A new anthology directed solely by women: A woman is puzzled when her children stop eating, another mom tries her best to keep her daughter’s birthday from being ruined by a tragedy, four hikers wander into an off-limits park, and a woman discovers something horrific about her son on the eve of his eighteenth birthday.
REVIEW: The trend for indie horror anthologies continues. As always, the vignettes are hit and miss, although on the whole, despite a talented group of female directors at the helm, XX is too low-budget and short on resources to compare to V/H/S & V/H/S 2, which remain the best recent example of the genre. Of the four shorts, one is good, another is interesting but uneven, while the other two are quite bad.
The foursome kicks off with “The Box”, based on a story by Jack Ketchum. Written and directed by Jovanka Vuckovic (THE CAPTURED BIRD), the premise, where a mom and dad are horrified when their kids inexplicably stop eating after gazing into a stranger’s box, is interesting. The short is also evocatively shot, with many scenes taking place in Toronto’s very recognizable transit system. But, the mystery is never gone into, and just when it starts to get ramped-up, it’s over.
The second, “The Birthday Party”, by Annie Clark, aka musician St Vincent, is the best. Melanie Lynskey stars as a doting mom, who, to her horror, discovers that her husband has inexplicably dropped dead only an hour before her daughter’s birthday party. Not wanting to scar her, she hides the body, and as opposed to the heavy horror of the other installments, this opts for macabre black comedy. It works well, and Clark’s premise is aided by Lynskey’s ace comic performance.
The third is the toughest watch, “Don’t Fall”, by Roxanne Benjamin (SOUTHBOUND). Far too typical (young campers go where they shouldn’t), it feels like it was added as an afterthought and isn’t terribly interesting. The most polished of the quartet is Karyn Kusama’s “Her Only Living Son.” While also familiar (it’s a riff on ROSEMARY’S BABY), it’s distinguished by Kusama’s style and Christina Kirk's acting. Even still, it’s nothing extraordinary, and a bit of a letdown compared to Kusama's last film, THE INVITATION.
On the whole, XX suffers from a low-budget, something which is more evident than in other anthology outings. It has the vibe of having been assembled quickly, making a theatrical play for this unlikely, although Magnet might do well on VOD. The four directors are uniformly talented, but other than St. Vincent’s film, none of them really stand out, and even at eighty minutes this is a tough slog. Genre fans may be somewhat interested in checking it out, but it’s not too exciting as far as these things go.