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[Sundance Review] ‘XX’ is the Creepy Female-Driven Horror We Need

Angela Trimbur, Breeda Wool, Morgan Krantz and Casey Adams appear in XX by Annie Clark, Karyn Kusama, Roxanne Benjamin and Jovanka Vuckovic, an official selection of the Midnight program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. © 2016 Sundance Institute.

Four years ago, acclaimed short film director Jovanka Vuckovic and XYZ partner Todd Brown began a conversation based on a sad truth: there are no horror anthologies helmed by women. At the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, they bring the fruits of their labor to life – in the form of the highly anticipated XX. The industry has hardly improved its attitude toward female directors since their discussion began, so the creation of this film is a milestone. I am happy to report that the resulting anthology lives up to expectations, and surpasses many male-dominated efforts of its kind.

Each film, including amazing interstitial animation by Sofia Carillo, was created in ignorance of its companions – only Brown knew what all segments were about. They flow in order of intensity as well, a structural achievement that most anthologies do not reach. The first is Vuckovic’s adaptation of a Jack Ketchum story, about a boy who continuously refuses to eat, and begins to infect his family with the conviction. Next is musician Annie Clark’s directorial debut, starring the incredible Melanie Lynskey as a mother who must cover up her husband’s suicide in order to save her anxious daughter’s birthday party. Roxanne Benjamin helms the third, a tale of friends on a camping trip gone wrong that is made original through disturbing creature design and honest characterization. And finally, my personal favorite, Karyn Kusama’s 18-years-later continuation of Rosemary’s Baby – the less said the better.

[Related] Keep up with all of our 2017 Sundance Film Festival coverage

Coming from such different filmmakers, it makes sense that each segment varies in style; this is part of XX’s immense charm. Vuckovic orchestrates a creepy, classical story of mundane breakdown – one that might have benefited from more self-aware humor, but is still engaging and chilling. Though not a horror fan herself, Clark commands surprisingly morbid comedy and colorful production design. Benjamin is an anthology vet, having produced the V/H/S series and directed my favorite Southbound segment; and her confidence shows in the adrenaline-rush of her short. Those who have seen Girlfight and The Invitation will not be surprised to hear that Kusama directs her segment with tense, disturbing brilliance. Stitched together with Carillo’s thematically relevant stop-motion animation, these very separate films somehow coalesce into a spooky, wacky, and utterly fun cinematic experience.

With all the press surrounding the film – which it absolutely deserves, considering the boundaries it blasts apart – it may set viewers up to expect something hardcore, or mind-blowingly scary. This is unjust to the film itself. Anthologies are made for fun late-night viewing, with thrills and chills and sometimes a few blood-spills; and XX delivers all of these things, without reaching so high for a “message.” It’s made by horror fans, for horror fans. This one feels both classic and modern; it favors old-school scares and tension, but also employs wonderfully fresh visions. Clark’s segment is made more unsettling by its pep and color, while Benjamin’s features one of the only queer couples I’ve ever seen in a genre film. Because of this mixture of influences, it might not please every viewer; but what horror film does?

Clark, Carillo, Benjamin, Kusama and Vuckovic have done what they set out to do: showcase female voices in genre. This in itself is a bold statement. The rest is just wildly entertaining cinema. Like the best anthologies, XX has something for everyone. I hope its success provides ample opportunities for these filmmakers to continue scaring us. We need their visions more than ever.

Magnet will release their all-female horror anthology in theaters, On Demand, Amazon Video and iTunes February 17, 2017.

Keep up with Ben @smuckyfilms and at smuckyproductions.wordpress.com



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COMMENTS

32 Comments
  • Barry El Beardo

    Personally, it REALLY doesn’t bother me if a film is directed by a man or woman. I also don’t think most movie-goers care either. I think the root of the problem lies with Hollywood itself and who big studio execs believe that men are better than women. Its all bullshit. Karyn Kusama’s The Invitation is one of the best horror films I’ve seen in at least a decade and should’ve had a theatrical release in the UK.
    If watching this film is supporting women behind the camera then I will happily do it because the anthology looks amazing regardless of who directed it.

    • Saturn

      I agree – I don’t give a shit if it’s a male or female director, black or white, straight or gay, English speaking or not – as long as they are competent enough to have the role, and it’s not because of some kind of “quota” system.

      It’s sad really that XX has to be marketed as “directed by women!” – it really shouldn’t matter these days.
      It’s not as if women are tied to the cooker these days, like in the past.
      Good job really, as most of the women I know can’t cook for shit!

      • Si Llage

        Most men who discriminate against women say the same thing, but science has proven them wrong about their presumed lack of bias.

        “As late as 1970, the top five orchestras in the U.S. had fewer than
        5% women. But by 1997 they were up to 25% and today some of them are well into the 30s. What is the source of this change?

        The size of a major orchestra is quite stable; they all have around
        100 musicians. Furthermore, the types of jobs do not change. The
        increase in the number of women cannot be attributed to a redistribution giving the orchestra fewer bassists — traditionally played by men — and more harpists — where more women are found.

        In the 1970s and 1980s, orchestras began using blind auditions.
        Candidates are situated on a stage behind a screen to play for a jury
        that cannot see them. Researchers have determined that this step alone makes it 50% more likely that a woman will advance to the finals. And the screen has also been demonstrated to be the source of a surge in the number of women being offered positions.”

    • J Jett

      I agree THE INVITATION was superb. it’s one of my top faves (along with THE AUTOPSY OF JANE DOE) of 2016!

  • Michael Cook

    I would love to see one of them take on a remake of Stand By Me, but with teenage girl cast. There’s not enough teenage girl movies, especially in the horror/thriller genre.

    • Saturn

      There are plenty of teenage girl movies out there!
      Usually they have more than just the xx’s on the cover though……..

      Of course I jest – you’re right, though, aside frojm a female cast fronted Stand By Me – that’s just too easy to swap genders with a different story.
      Do something a little different (like Ginger Snaps) instead of just rehashing an old movie with girls instead of boys.
      When done well, horror movies with predominantly female protagonists work well (The Descent being a prime example).

      You have Girl Scouts/Girl Guides/Brownies in the US, right?
      Would it really be difficult for a female director to base a horror movie around that? perhaps while out camping, the scout leaders are “taken out” by a sniper(s), and the survivors (from late to pre-teens) have to fend for themselves with the skill sets they have developed, with no way to communicate with the outside world and nobody coming to help.
      Simple premise – done well it could be awesome.

    • Jada Maes

      I could see that as an AMC miniseries… Do you think gender-swapping Ace and his gang would work too?

  • Creepshow

    You’re doing a smashing job Ben. This year’s Sundance seems to be serving up some delicious horror treats this year. And that’s good, because we are HUNGRY!

  • Munchie

    So…if I watch it and think it sucks and I say so, am I misogynistic?

    • Si Llage

      The point you missed is that most movie viewers don’t get to decide because women directors aren’t given the opportunities male directors are given.

      “From 2009-2014, only 6.4% of feature films released by major studios
      were directed by women. (LA Times)”

      “Women directed 17% of episodes in 2015-16 TV season. 81% of first-time episodic directors were male in the 2015-16 TV season. (DGA)”

      The misogyny happens so early that it has already been decided for you that you won’t be able to watch and/or judge many films for no other reason than that women wanted to make them. People can’t judge films or television that never got made.

      • Munchie

        I didn’t miss the point at all. I just don’t care.

        • Jada Maes

          If you don’t care, why would you comment?

        • Barry El Beardo

          I think Munchie means he/she doesn’t care who directs. I hope!

      • Tweedy

        Very well put!

        • YankyPanky

          Yeah studios are just going give away positions to people just because they have a vagina.

      • YankyPanky

        Yeah the country is one sexist cesspool thats currently oppressing it’s female population. What a load of crap. If women made good movies which they don’t (this movie is proof). They would get more work. If you suck no one wants you. PERIOD! I’m surprised you arent screaming PATRIARCHY!!

    • YankyPanky

      Only to the snowflakes and femtards that liked it.

  • Elizabeth

    I can’t wait to watch this. It sounds really interesting.

  • DrewHamster

    I agree with the below sentiments. Who cares if it’s directed by a male or female as long as it makes a good film? Now I found The Invitation to be incredibly suspenseful and I absolutely loved the final moments of the film. I wasn’t exactly a fan of Southbound as a whole but did love the hospital segment, so I have to wonder which segment Benjamin directed.

  • zombie84_41

    sounds legit.

  • J Jett

    i’m definitely looking forward to seeing this!

    • SugarShane333

      Comes out tomorrow!

  • WALKTER

    I remember that short story “the box” by Jack ketchum, it was great. I was going to check this out regardless, the trailer looked promising, but now I’m really looking forward to this. I wish they would adapt more of Ketchums work.

  • Jada Maes

    Whenever women and horror comes up, I always remember that Pet Sematary was directed by a woman, and that flick scarred me as a child (one of those rare cases where the movie and the book are basically interchangeable). Women have usually been the narrative focus in horror (Psycho, Rosemary’s Baby, pick any Final Girl), so them being a force behind the camera is simply the next logical step… And severely overdue.

    • YankyPanky

      Yeah because the country is riddled with patriarchy.

  • Si Llage

    “Horror tends to skew heavily toward young males”

    More than Hollywood in general? I’m not so sure about that.

    I don’t accept ‘boys will be obnoxious semi-troll boys’.

  • CeCe Says Ugonlearntaday

    That looks awesome

  • tbaio

    Just saw the 1st story: The Box, & was unimpressed. Hesitant to watch the rest but eventually will. I’m so hoping its not as bad as that other P.O.S. Holidays. I never made it past the 3rd story on that one.

  • tbaio

    Just saw the 2nd story, The Birthday Party. Biggest piece of sh*t. I’m done with this one. Yet another terrible movie with a stellar review. Unreal.

  • apquickallday

    Just watched this last night and the whole thing sucks!!! Each short story was worse than the next so there is no need to grade each story. The person who reviewed this movie was on the take and got paid well for his kind words.If this is a preview of strong women making horror movies in the future, I suggest you learn to cook and leave it to the men of the world. Ignore this movie at all cost.

    • Lucky7shots

      Agreed. Just because it’s a “milestone” film doesn’t mean it has to be a great film

  • YankyPanky

    This film and I use the term “flim” very loosely, is a steaming pile of garbage. The writers here wouldn’t know decent film if it kicked themin the stomach. I guess the studio must have gave the reviewer some swag or free stuff to write a decent review.

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