XYZ FILMS (2017)
Directors: Jovanka Vuckovic / Annie Clark / Roxanne Benjamin / Karyn Kusama
Starring: Natalie Brown, Melanie Lynskey, Breeda Wool, Christina Kirk, Sheila Vand, Angela Trimbur
Four times the horror.
Helmed exclusively by female directors, and starring female leads, XX features four short horror ‘movies’ spliced together by cool stop-motion interstitials. With the directors given carte blanche over creativity, story and pretty much everything else, the movies have no connective tissue so it ends up being a random blast of mini madness.
The first story, The Box, comes from up-and-coming director Jovanka Vuckovic and is probably the most suited for the format. With a Twilight Zone feel to it, the story begins with a family on a pre-Christmas train journey home. Young Danny (Peter DaCunha) is curious what the stranger beside him has in his shiny red gift box, but what he sees seemingly consumes him. Declining to eat after his experience, his family is thrown into turmoil as the ‘curse’ begins to spread and the family seemingly become the meal. There’s a creepy, growing atmosphere throughout the short, laced with a spattering of gore however the ambiguity of it all is cagily frustrating.
Debutant Annie Clark delivers The Birthday Party, a short with a mother desperate to put on a dream birthday party for her daughter only to discover her husband is dead in his office – and she has to hide the body before the guests arrive. It’s a black comedy rather than a conventional horror and stars Melanie Lynskey as the hapless mother. It’s fun, it’s macabre but that’s about it really.
More conventional, however, is Roxanne Benjamin’s Don’t Fall – two guys and two gals out camping in the lonely desert stumble across an ancient cave painting which turns out to be more demonic than they could have ever imagined. This is by far the shortest of the bunch and includes a creepy demon monster stalking its prey. It’s nothing new but it was effective even with its short runtime – Benjamin’s left a calling card methinks.
Her Only Living Son rounds off the quartet and is helmed by Jennifer’s Body and The Invitation’s Karyn Kusama (a seasoned veteran compared with the others). Having turned 18, a young man is exposed to the secret of his real parentage – the little red man downstairs. His bedraggled mother desperately tries to cling to her son as the world begins to close in on the prodigy. This is the most accomplished of the shorts, in terms of execution, acting and…well…direction. Kusama manages to cram a lot into the short runtime, but things end up feeling a bit too rushed.
The interludes, stop-motion animations from Sofia Carrillo, are deliciously bizarre and creepy – wandering doll faces, moths and slithering hands interact with the Gothic playground around them and serve as effective, if pretty unconnected, little ditties.
One connection that does link three-quarters of the offerings is the strain of motherhood, only Don’t Fall blocks the landslide, and it’s interesting that three directors (none of whom had prior knowledge of the others storylines) opted for similar themes. Another is that, yes, the short runtimes actually become detrimental at points – there are good stories to tell that could benefit from feature-length offerings (moreso Don’t Fall and Her Only Living Son), though Lights Out started as a two minute short, so who knows.
In terms of production, the four stories all look good for the most part. The Box and Her Only Living Son benefit from the most directorial polish, however, The Birthday Party is interestingly shot, especially in its conclusion. There aren’t any real issues with this aspect.
What I did enjoy is the different approaches to the genre. The Box, for example, whilst ambiguous, is an interesting direction for a short to take (the story isn’t overly original, but still) whereas The Birthday Party is a more quirky take on the genre. Don’t Fall is really the only ‘straight up’ horror inclusion and it was nice to see ideas that drifted away from simply slasher/gore etc.
A real life Treehouse of Horror, if you will, XX has a distinct throwback feel to it all, part TV horror, part vintage creepiness and though it doesn’t feel like a cohesive movie, there’s enough in each short to entertain, if not to outright terrify - it’s more VHS than Trick ‘r Treat. The four female directors certainly have the talent and it’ll be interesting to see their next moves.
November 30th 2017