DVD Movie Review: XX

By Thom Compton 17.11.2017

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XX (UK Rating: 15)

Horror anthologies may not be the Hollywood blockbuster force many of them deserve, but they are a genre staple. Whether it's Stephen King and George Romero's team up in Creepshow, the all Asian director team behind Three Extremes, or the 26-piece directorial ensemble that is ABCs of Death, those interested in a collection of short, visceral tales of terror have a much bigger pool to select from than they might think. XX is one of the newest ones - released on DVD across the UK back in May via Thunderbird Releasing - with its central hook being that all of the directors are women.

However, like many of its ilk, some sections do a better job than others of roping you in, and XX has some notable downsides - more specifically, the theme of mothers, and their children. Now, this theme works wonderfully, in and of itself. It's also unlikely that it was meant to be a proper theme, but nonetheless, it is a very important factor in most of the stories. When that thematic thread gets dropped, then, it's all the more jarring.

The first piece viewers explore is The Box, directed by Jovanka Vukovich. This is probably the most unsettling of the bunch, and the nerve it hits is universally terrifying. As a woman and her two children travel home on a subway train, her son begins asking the man next to him what he has stored in box on his lap. It's close to Christmas, so the old man explains it's a gift. Despite his mother and his sister insisting he display some manners, he asks the old to see what's in the box. The old man obliges, and the young boy looks shocked. After this, over the course of a week, he refuses to eat, insisting he just isn't hungry. This segment is so beautifully shot, and when the boy's affliction spreads to other family members, this simple premise becomes haunting and disturbing. The only real qualm with it is the mother is often showcased to be somewhat apathetic, which makes her decisions later in the short a bit perplexing. Overall, this is the best of the four shorts, and would make an excellent full length film.

Next up is The Birthday Party, directed by Annie Clark. In this film, it is little Lucy's birthday, and her mother, Mary (played by Melanie Lynskey), is doing everything in her power to ensure everything is great. When she discovers a dead body (not just any, mind you, but it's interesting and worth discovering on your own), she has to quickly find a way to hide the body to ensure it doesn't ruin the day. If that description wasn't obvious enough, this is the funniest of the four pieces. Watching Mary desperately try to find places to hide the corpse is pretty amusing. Her final decision is, however, rather stupid and nonsensical. She spends a lot of the short run time (this is also the shortest of the four) with perfectly logical places to hide the body, so her final call is kind of ridiculous. However, it still manages to be droll, in the darkest way possible.

Now, the quality dips considerably as the audience moves into Don't Fall. Directed by Roxanne Benjamin (who also co-wrote The Birthday Party), this follows four young adults stumbling upon, what is briefly hinted as the land of some ancient tribe. When one of them is transformed into a killing machine, the others desperately scramble to escape. Here's the thing: not only does this break what was likely a thematic thread amongst the films, it's also the most traditional story. While that could have worked, it really only manages to be boring, traditional horror; although, to its credit, this is actually the only one of the four films that manages to be scary at any point. The monster make up is fantastic, and the scares (despite a few false jump scares) typically feel tense, although not particularly frightening. You will likely be nervous, but it manages to fade a bit too quickly to make Don't Fall feel anything other than out of place here.

Finally, there is Her Only Living Son, which feels like the most structurally sound. The plot isn't particularly amazing, but if you're looking for good pacing, acting, and writing, it might just marginally beat out The Box. Also, The Box is more ambiguous, meaning it will likely leave more people annoyed.

Her Only Living Son, directed by Karen Kusama (without a doubt the most seasoned director on the roster, with films like Jennifer's Body and The Invitation), tells the story of Cora and her son, Andy. Andy has been getting into a lot of trouble as of late, and even Cora is amazed to see how much of it he's getting away with. As she mentions, they have been running from the boy's father their whole lives, but clearly the town they have settled in is more than aware of who he is. While this plot isn't going to win much in originality, it is beautifully shot, and the pacing is absolutely perfect.

In-between these movies, viewers are treated to a stop motion animation about a walking doll house, which also seems to have strong maternal instincts. These stop motion sections, perhaps besides one with an apple, are fascinating and creepy, in all the best ways. Again, it's hard to be sure that the mother and child bond is as important here as it seems, so really, Don't Fall can't be judged too harshly for it. Unfortunately, it is still the least imaginative and interesting of the lot. Fortunately, the remainder of the anthology is absolutely worth checking out, as they are solid contributions to the genre.

Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10
This all-female directorial team for XX brings some truly disturbing stories to the fray. While one lags tremendously, the other three, and the brilliant stop motion segments, more than make up for it. Honestly, of those three, all of them feel like they would make great full length films. This isn't to say that Don't Fall is completely without merit; it is to say that amongst the other portions of the compilation, it just doesn't feel as deep or imaginative.

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