“XX” not only features women behind the cameras(and keyboards, pens, or whatever other writing tool), but each of the four short films that comprises the anthology features a strong female presence in the lead role. Scanning through the credits, it becomes evident that there were several female crew members involved in at least a few of the films as well. And to tie it all together, Sofia Carrillo created animated sequences for the anthology opening and interludes between the different shorts. Each of the films goes down its own uniquely macabre route, making “XX” a lighting-fast, but satisfying, watch.
“The Box” uses a child’s precociousness during the holiday season as a catalyst for it cerebral madness. With Christmas gifts on the brain, a boy asks a man on the subway about a fancy gift box he’s holding. His mother urges him towards decorum, but the man happily plays along. After peering inside, the boy’s demeanor slowly transitions from happiness to fear, and then to stoic indifference. The effect of the package contents slowly starts affecting his daily routine, and after he shares the secret of what he saw with his sister and his father, they start exhibiting the same symptoms. This leaves his mother desperate to unravel the mystery. Writer-director Jovanka Vuckovic’s film is based on a story by Jack Ketchum.
“The Birthday Party” is as much a dark comedy as it is a horror short, a fitting description since the director and co-writer, Annie Clark, admits that horror films scare her. Best known for her music(she records under the name St. Vincent), the short film marks her directorial debut. Melanie Lynskey(“Up in the Air”) plays a woman starting her day on the eve of her daughter’s party. She brings coffee to her husband, only to find him unresponsive at the desk in his study. Well, he’s more than unresponsive – he’s dead. Determined not to let this particular predicament ruin the birthday party, she goes to lengths to cover up the proverbial elephant in the room.
“Don’t Fall” features a quartet of twenty-somethings camping out in the desert. When they discover pictographs from Native American settlers while hiking, they realize they might be trespassing on sacred ground. The uneasy feelings soon prove warranted when one of the women wakes up in the middle of the night, feeling not quite herself. Writer-director Roxanne Benjamin(who also co-wrote “The Birthday Party”) draws inspiration from the creature feature, using shadows to effectively tease looks at who – or what – is haunting these campers. These glances are just enough to induce chills, making “Don’t Fall” one of the stronger efforts in this collection.
“Her Only Living Son” revolves around another age-related milestone. A woman is both reluctant and eager to celebrate her son’s eighteenth birthday. But when he starts to exhibit strange and violent behavior, warnings from the past come back to haunt her. Written and directed by Karyn Kusama(“Jennifer’s Body”, “The Invitation”), “Her Only Living Son” explores themes similar to “Rosemary’s Baby” – if Rosemary’s baby was coming-of-age.
In a time of digestible streaming media, “XX” easily finds its place on the menu. Even with the brief interludes between the shorts, the runtime is only about 75 minutes once the credits start to roll. It also blends horror tones and themes quite well; there is a little something for everyone here, including a splash of blood and gore. Carrillo’s stop-motion animation between films is a welcome treat also – it lives in a world of a child’s nightmare, where the dollhouse furniture comes to life and possesses the dolls(and whatever else it desires). “XX” proves that the best genre film isn’t always going to be found at the local multiplex. For the best horror release out right now, one just has to look towards their local independent movie theater, or their On Demand platform of choice.