Review: XX is an uneven, worthwhile anthology

XX is an anthology horror film featuring shorts by Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, and Karyn Kusama. The conceit of XX is simultaneously groundbreaking and infuriating: this is an anthology featuring four stories about women written and directed by women. It’s disappointing that this is a big deal in 2017, but hopefully XX is a step toward that not being a big deal in the future.

Peyton Kennedy, Natalie Brown, Peter DaCunha, and Michael Dyson in “The Box” in XX, a Magnet release. Photo courtesy of Magnet Releasing.

“The Box,” written and directed by Jovanka Vuckovic and based on a story by Jack Ketchum. In it, a young boy peeks inside a stranger’s wrapped present on the train and suddenly loses his appetite. Forever. He refuses to tell his mother (Natalie Brown) what he saw or why he’s not eating, but he shares it with his sister and father, who immediately follow his lead. It’s a straightforward, no frills path from beginning to end, but it’s got enough atmosphere and tension to keep it going.

“The Birthday Party,” the debut of Annie Clark (musician St. Vincent), follows. In it, wealthy housewife and arguably psychotic woman Mary (Melanie Lynskey) finds her husband’s dead body and fumbles through a series of questionable at best decisions on her daughter’s seventh birthday. It’s more black comedy than horror, but there’s plenty of jarring sound design to try to make you think otherwise.

Up next is “Don’t Fall,” Roxanne Benjamin’s contribution. It’s a fun creature feature with the only real action to be found in XX. A group of friends find some strange markings while hiking, and things take a serious turn for the worse that night. Action packed with great visual effects, it could have easily been fleshed out into a feature all its own. As it is, it’s a tight, thrilling slasher that’s a standout among its companions.

Karyn Kusama’s entry, “Her Only Living Son,” is another slow-burn mystery, this time about Cora (Christine Kirk) and her son Andy (Kyle Allen) on his eighteenth birthday. It builds from discomfort to terror as Andy’s true nature becomes clear, which will feel familiar but not unwelcome to fans of Rosemary’s Baby and The Omen.

Bookended and linked by creepy, gothic animation from Sofia Carrillo, the short films in XX are confidently made genre pieces ranging from mediocre to good. Taken as a whole, though, XX is a statement of intent: women can make genre fare just as well as men can, and they’re damn sure going to do it.

Arbitrary review score: One thumb up, the other wobbling unconvincingly.

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