Since the release and warm reception of both V/H/S and The ABCs of Death in 2012, there have been a proliferation* of anthology-style horror films, more than a few of them sequels to the aforementioned titles. Despite an almost overabundance in those 5 short years, there’s been no real lack of creativity when it comes to theme for these films: the V/H/S series focused on our favorite nostalgic medium, ABCs were alphabetical bursts of horror, and from there Tales of Halloween took place on the spookiest of nights, Southbound dealt with a hellish highway, and Holidays bloodied up some of the most recognizable calendar dates.
Adding to the ever-growing pile of clever anthologies is the just-released XX, a film featuring four short horror stories, each one written and directed by a woman, with each segment featuring a prominent female lead. The shorts are as follows:
“The Box”, written and directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, is told from the perspective of a mother whose young son, after looking into a box held by a stranger on a train, suddenly loses his appetite. The weird illness soon spreads to other members of the family.
“The Birthday Party” is written and directed by Annie Clark (better known by her musical moniker, St. Vincent), and stars the always perfect Melanie Lynskey. Here, Lynskey discovers her husband dead on the day of their daughter’s birthday and does her best to cover it up and not have the party ruined.
“Don’t Fall”, written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin, sees four friends on a desert camping trip who encounter some weird petroglyphs that end up being a warning they fail to heed.
Lastly, “Her Only Living Son”, written and directed by Karyn Kusama, who directed 2015’s The Invitation. In this segment, a mother develops suspicions about the true identity of her son as his 18th birthday approaches.
I’ve mentioned in previous reviews the unusual restrictions placed against anthology films, namely their runtimes: no matter how you slice it, it’s difficult to pull off a satisfying conclusion when you’ve only had 15 minutes (or less!) to tell a story. Unfortunately, most of XX‘s segments suffer from this, not to mention the other limitations that go along with being a low-budget independent feature. Of the four shorts, Roxanne Benjamin’s “Don’t Fall” was by far the strongest of the bunch. Showcasing a desert-scape similar to the one from her Southbound segment “Siren”, Benjamin deftly crafts her tale of terror, supported by a strong and energetic cast. When it ended, I was left wanting more.
One final note: for a film that heavily showcased its feminine angle not only through its chromosomian title and lipstick-laden promotional material (marketed as “Four killer tales by four killer women”), I was expecting the stories to have a little more socio-political context, but there is none to be found in any of the segments, unfortunately. Anyone who has turned on a TV or read a newspaper lately knows there is no shortage (nor has there ever been, really) of pertinent issues regarding women in the world of today: sexual assault and harassment, pay inequality, reproductive rights. It would’ve been nice to see one of those hot button issues be used as a springboard for some pointed, topical horror, ala Teeth or I Spit on Your Grave. Alas, there is none of that here. Feels like a squandered opportunity.
Having those extra feminist elements might’ve helped XX stand out among its peers, but the final result is hardly discernible among the current glut of similar anthologies.
*Not including the sequels to V/H/S or ABCs, there have been at least 20 anthology horror films – all of varying low-budget quality – released since 2012.