One from the to watch pile…
Film: I have said previously that I love anthology films (the last time with the anthology Torture Garden): one of the things I love about horror is that there is a capacity to tell a quick tale of terror, be it in this way, or even with some of the YouTube shorts that get developed into full length features, like Lights Out, or TV shows like the Twilight Zone and Masters of Horror.
Horror: yeah! Most anthologies have a thematic similarity, like Creepshow’s comic tales from the pen of Stephen King, or Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors train-bound tarot reader of doom, and XX is no exception. As the title may suggest, all the directors of this anthology have a double xx chromosome, or in more general terms, are women. Our directors are writer/ director of Southbound, Roxanne Benjamin; director of Jennifer’s Body and Aeon Flux, Karyn Kusama; musician St. Vincent aka Annie Clark and writer/ director of The Guest, as well as former editor-in-chief of horror magazine, Rue Morgue, Jovanka Vuckovic.
Quite a line up of impressive talent, for sure.
Most anthologies have some kind of connective narrative and in this case it is a mysterious, almost Jan Svankmeyer-ish stop motion of a walking dollhouse created by artist Sofia Carrillo that connects the tales, not so much as an introduction to each one, but instead just as a break in between each story. It looks incredible but doesn’t really seem to have any kind of reverence to the story, though each story seems to be a ‘room’ of the dollhouse.
The stories, though are mostly wonderful.
First cab off the rank is Vuckovic’s The Box. Based on a story by Jack Ketchum and adapted by Vuckovic, The Box tells of a boy named Danny (Peter DaCunha) who asks a strange man (Michael Dyson) on a train what is in the box he is nursing. The man lets him sneak a peak, and this immediately stops Danny from wanting to eat. Danny slowly starves himself and as he shares his secret, other family members stop eating as well. Will his mother, Susan (Natalie Brown) be able to save her family? Vuckovic has created a true tale of fear here that’s told very matter-of-factly and leave you with a sense of dread, and is probably my favourite of the collection.
The second story is The Birthday Party, co-written by Roxanne Benjamin and director Annie Clark. This is black humour at its finest as it tells the tale of a woman, Mary (Melanie Lynskey) who is holding a party for her daughter Lucy (Sanaa Victoria), when she discovers that her husband, David (Seth Duhame) has inconveniently passed away. The tale then leads into her attempts to hide the body so that Lucy’s party can go on without any interruption… will she be successful? Annie Clark directs Lynskey into some funny physical situations which she takes too like a duck to water, and the whole tale is told with a colour palette that suggests a sugary 60s sitcom. It’s heaps of fun, and a nice break after Vuckovic’s dense tale.
Next is Don’t Fall, written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin, which tells of four friends, Paul (Casey Adams), Jess (Angela Trimbur), Jay (Morgan Krantz) and Gretchen (Breeda Wool), who has an abject fear of heights, on a camping trip. Whilst resting against a shallow cave wall, they find an image of several figures painted on one of the walls. During the night, Gretchen is attacked by a creature who looks like one of the painted figures, and she attacks her friends with an animalistic ferocity… will they survive her?
This was my least favourite of the tales as it after the complexity of the first two, it felt a bit empty. If Benjamin was influenced by films like Primal or Dying Breed, I wouldn’t be surprised. It’s nicely filmed, but essentially below average.
Last is Her Only Living Son, written and directed by Karyn Kusama, and it’s a tragic tale of a single mother, Cora (Christina Kirk) who is called up to the school as her son, Andy (Kyle Allen), has assaulted another student, but it would appear that the staff of the school aren’t too worried about it… which leads Cora to suspect that he somehow has them under his thrall. She has a horrible suspicion about her boy, which becomes greater when she sees he is developing talons on his hand and feel… could her only son be a Spawn of Satan?
Kusama’s story is steeped in tragedy, and is well shot and acted well, and is a great way to finish the film after the disappointing third entry.
All in all, the parts of this film make up for a greater whole, and I certainly hope we see an XX2 down the track with some of the directors who were originally proposed when this movie was first announced, like American Mary’s Soska Sisters, Boxing Helena’s Jennifer Lynch and American Psycho’s Mary Harron.
Format: On the Australian bluray, this disc runs for approximately 80 minutes and is presented in a perfect 2.39:1 image with a matching DTS Digital Surround 5.1 sound.
Extras: This disc is bloated with extras, and it starts with a trailer for the film Raw, before we get to the menu.
The extras are:
Making of the Box looks not just at the making of Vuckovic’s entry, but also the proposal for making an all-female director horror anthology.
XX Set Visit in 360: A Behind the Scenes Look at the Birthday Party takes a look at some of the filming of The Birthday Party with pop-up bits saying who did what… like those old pop-up videos.
Don’t Fall Stunts and Special F/X is a series of stills and behind the scenes stuff on how the effects were done for the Don’t Fall entry.
Behind the Scenes of Her Only Living Son is really just some behind the scenes footage of the cast and crew at work (but with a cool synth score!)
Making of XX: Directors Interviews is a series of interviews with the directors, but what’s great is immediately after that we have Extended Interviews with Karyn Kusama and Jovanka Vuckovic, Roxanne Benjamin and Annie Clark and Sofia Carrillo
Trailer: I bet you can guess what this is.
This package also contains a reversible slick for the bluray.
WISIA: Loved it, and I’ll definitely watch it again.