One of my most anticipated horrors for 2017, the female-directed anthology XX, had its release on VOD last Friday. Fortunately, Toronto was one of a handful of cities that saw a theatrical run for which you can be sure I took advantage.
Five female filmmakers. Five tales of the macabre.
XX was a strange beast. I find myself at odds trying to decide how important it is for a film like this to deliver as an anthology. Are the filmmakers obligated to carry theme and tone throughout, or is performing the difficult enough task of telling a good tale enough? Let's think on that for a bit and I'll just get into the meat – the individual stories.
The opening short by Jovanka Vuckovic (the Canuck of the bunch) entitled The Box was pretty strong. Based on an old short story written by Jack Ketchum, this packs a Twilight Zone-style punch that is exactly the kind of self contained piece I like to see in anthologies. I felt it served Vuckovic very well, as I've always liked the visual style of her previous work, but found her stories lacking. This was a nice solution. It was also refreshing to see a Ketchum work that wasn't entirely abhorrent.
The next short by Annie Clark (aka musician St. Vincent) was more puzzling, as it possessed a more comedic tone. The Birthday Party was probably the most visually interesting segment, so I could have got on board the tone shift if it wasn't for the overbearing music cues. Even if there was one beat where it was quite effective, most of the time it was very distracting. Perhaps Clark's background in music made her feel the need to overcompensate with sound. After all, it's a balance even some of the best filmmakers have trouble with.
I thought Roxanne Benjamin's short Don't Fall was the most thematically problematic. If I had seen it as a stand-alone short, I would've been all “yes this is some decent straight-up horror”, but as part of XX it seems glaringly out of place. With all the other shorts fitting together as representations of motherhood and/or family, this one couldn't be further away from that. So getting back to my initial dilemma, do I scold someone for going against their mandate and creating something that is inherently not about gender? I mean, that is invariably where we should be heading, right? Within the context of XX and how it was marketed though, that seems counter-intuitive. Am I crazy?
Karyn Kasuma's Her Only Living Son was the one that, not surprisingly, features the best performances. Acting almost as a psuedo-sequel to Rosemary's Baby, I thought this one was pretty solid. Kasuma has a real knack (as evidenced last year in The Invitation) for creating tension through dialogue and this piece is now different. I thought the conclusion was a bit abrupt and one of the few times I wished a short existed as a longer work.
Wrapping everything together were the beautifully grotesque stop-motion animation sequences created by Sofia Carillo. Even if they didn't really serve to connect the stories, I felt they themselves came to a satisfying conclusion at the end.
So, very much like Benjamin's other anthology Southbound, XX is very consistent, although without a truly exceptional segment to latch onto, breaking into the mass consciousness may be a tall order. Despite its problems as an anthology though, I think this was a win for the individual filmmakers and hopefully they are able to springboard to bigger projects from this.