This review was originally published during the 2017 Sundance Film Festival
Whether you're using statistics, story analysis or plain old common sense, there's no denying that the film world is in desperate need of more female voices. This is particularly true in the horror genre, which has spent years pigeonholing itself as a regressive, bro-friendly art form. In an attempt to correct that imbalance, XX offers four female directors (and one animator) the chance to tell their stories.
Certainly, the female perspective puts a new spin on familiar horror stories with under-explored themes — including motherhood, competitiveness among homemakers and eating disorders. Unfortunately, as is often the case with horror anthologies, the format doesn't do its filmmakers any favours, as the already-thin premises are shut down before they can even be properly fleshed out.
Opening film "The Box" is compelling enough as it begins — an old man lets a young boy peer into a mysterious gift box on a train (shout out to the TTC). From there, the boy refuses to eat food and won't explain why. It's an interesting start, but it's delivered with Lifetime-movie acting and ultimately ends without a satisfying conclusion.
Most people are likely watching XX to see the directorial debut from St. Vincent's Annie Clark. "The Birthday Party" certainly shows promise — Clark dresses her set with eye-popping mid-century modern furniture and unique set design. The plot — a mother attempts to hide a dead body at her daughter's birthday party — is barely effective though, more likely to induce a light chuckle than a jump scare. That said, it's elevated by the always great Melanie Lynskey.
A horror anthology would be nothing without a collection of millennials getting fucked up in the wilderness. As such, "Don't Fall" is at once familiar and welcome as it follows four youths whose camping trip comes to a bloody end at the hands of a monster. It's a fun little flick full of gore, but don't expect anything by way of plot development or depth.
The fourth film in the series is arguably its least focused. "Her Only Living Son" follows a mother who ignores the warning signs of her teen boy's sociopathic behaviour, eventually letting things descend into a particularly bloody conclusion.
The four films are tied together by delightfully macabre doll-house animations from Sofia Carrillo, and while they sadly only take up mere seconds of the film's 80-minute runtime, they're the most satisfying moment here.
XX is a step in the right direction for a previously male-dominated industry genre, but that only makes it more disappointing. Most anthology films are mixed bags quality-wise, but XX just offers four letdowns in a row.