"Stop fighting him. Andy's real father is coming to claim him soon." - Chet
XX, a new horror anthology out of the U.S of A, follows the typical format you would expect from a modern anthology, four short movies glued together by a sort of relevant wrap around story arc. Here the glue is more of the surreal side of the paste and "sort of" is a very loose term. Hey if you like the stop motion of the macabre then get ready to experience some chills, you will have a strange kind of appreciation for the almost Tim Burton frames you get to see interspersed between the movies.
So what's XX's pitch I hear you ask, well hold onto your linen the anthology is directed and written by four women and is told from a female perspective. That's right folks, the ladies are getting into the anthology space, and to be honest I thought they really couldn't do any worse than those arse wipes who gave us those V/H/S movies, you know the ones with scheming biatches and dudes who are simply scum. Sorry I figured the Ladies could give us something like character development and actual people who don't appear to have come from a fevered Rob Zombie wet dream. Let's check out how the chicks did.
Jovanka Vuckovic serves the starting soup with The Box, a traditional horror story that could have dripped off the pen of Edgar Allan Poe. Generic family of four upper middle class WASP types are traveling by train when the son decides to hassle another passage about what he has in the box on his lap. Naturally the family makes the usual mumblings to the son not to be an arsehole, which doesn't work as eventually, due to the kid being a badgering little dick, the son gains egress to the fabled box of mystery. Strange side effect over the next few days, the little guy isn't eating, can't go near the thought of food. Eventually the son tells Sis and Dad what was in the box, and then they aren't eating either. Of course no one gets Mom in on the latest developments in extreme dieting, because of reasons, so she has to sit back as one by one her family are hospitalised.
I dug this short, nothing is explained, there are no answers to be found, your normality is disrupted by chaos and there is no fighting back. Standard horror fare but handle with quite some aplomb by Director Vuckovic. Particularly like the constant streams of food being served up on the dinner table, holy heck is this family living high on the hog, and the sheer averageness of the folks coming up against the unexplainable supernatural. I guess a lot of Reviewers are hating on this short because it doesn't provide anything like answers or even suggestions about what might have gone down. The best in speculative fiction doesn't happen in a vacuum; life is happening already rather than being static, like one of those Hospital melodramas where the extras are waiting for their queue to walk across the set to make said Hospital appear to be happening. What was in the box? No idea, not the point of the short, we're dealing with a Woman watching her family disintegrate due to something she can in no way change. Solid drama that will have folk who dig traditional scare tactics on the quiet side of the tarot pack, Jovanka Vuckovic shows massive potential here, would love to see her writing and directing some American Horror Show.
Having got us into the mood with The Box, the second story in our dark assemble switches things to dark comedy, and who doesn't like a few chuckles with their blood drench entrées. The Birthday Party, St. Vincent, sees a flustered suburbian housewife getting her house ready for her daughter's birthday party. Unfortunately making things a heck of a lot more complex is her husband, who has committed suicide overnight. But the party must go on and our suburbanite is forced to go to more and more extreme measures to make sure her daughter has a good time, which amusingly includes a panda outfit. Things culminate with the birthday cake; check it out for at least a giggle.
Director St. Vincent shows a solid grasp of humour and is aided by an excellent performance by Melanie Lynskey as the put upon Mary, who manages to wear a nightgown and dressing gown throughout the segment. While the main focus is the birthday party and hiding the recent deceased there are a few other strands to the tale that prove to be distracting from the main ingredient. And if you are wondering who Melanie is, Two and a Half Men's Rose, yeah she looked familiar to me as well so had to check her out on imdb.com.
The main course serves up another plate of traditional horror with Roxanne Benjamin's Don't Fall. I got the feeling with this slice of "don't mess with ancient magical sites" that Benjamin was having some fun with horror tropes. Our four leads, the most of any of the stories, fill the roles you would normally expect from twenty somethings out in the boonies in a horror flick. The team are camping out in an area that is off limits, but hey nothing a tad of bribery can't resolve. Gretchen, who is something of a scaredy cat, comes into contact with some ancient petroglyphs (not hieroglyphs which are Egyptian we are informed by the knowledgeable Jay), and gets possessed by an ancient demon. She goes through changes and pretty soon is tracking down her fellow happy campers with fatal intent. The Call of the Wild meets Jason Voorhees if you like, and hey I'm sticking with that analogy.
Perhaps the weakest of the quadrilogy of stories at our disposal Don't Fall preys upon fertile horror ground, werewolf anyone, but doesn't develop our campers beyond the horror stereotypes they are presented as. The problem with the story is we have seen the plotline a zillion times before, Australia's Primal (2010), without adding anything to the basic setup. The effects were good, but there was zero in the way of tension or atmosphere going down, this is a by the numbers production. On the bright side the short has one of the best jump scares I've seen in quite some time, certainly got me. One bad apple doesn't necessarily rot the entire bowl, and there will be fans out there that will dig this short, I'm giving it a pass mark.
And finally dessert is Karyn Kusama's Her Only Living Son, a trip down the Rosemary's Baby rabbit hole. Cora is having problems with her eighteen year old son Andy, he is rebellious, stays out, he smokes and drinks and don't come home at all - oops fell into Alice Cooper mode there. Anyways Andy has a few less than desirable character traits but seems to have almost universal approval, to the detriment of those around him. Andy has decided he wants to go live with his father, a Hollywood type, much to Cora's dismay. With gaining recognition of who Andy might be Cora is soon fighting for his soul, the ending of this one will surprise you, it certainly did to me.
Arguably the best of the four shorts in the anthology, the story revolves around Cora fighting hard to keep her son, actress Christina Clark nailing the role. The short is intense, hammers home the Rosemary's Baby angle, and certainly had me glued to the dark and brooding final scene. This one is intense folks and will have true horror fans high fiving each other over what is on display. Director Karyn Kusama is someone to keep your eye on. XX is worth dialling into for this short alone.
Overall XX is quite simply one of the best anthology horror movies I've seen this century, with some surprising depth and enough ideas going down to keep interest levels up. Okay so the movie is told from a female point of view, about time the Ladies had a voice in this end of town, but if male don't let that deprive you of some viewing pleasure. This is core horror aimed at true horror fans, you know the sort who dig character development and dramatic movements over simply gore for gore's sack. I'm going to put a large neon lit sign saying "Recommended" on this outstanding horror movie. Get a view today kids, find out exactly what all the buzz has been, and hey the best thing here is we have some Writers and Directors to follow in the coming years.