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.
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.