In the horror genre, burgeoning directors & big league names alike tamper with a format that allows for crisp, original shorts to contribute to an expanded universe of terror: anthologies. The presentation can vary between a singular story linking a number of vignettes together or just a few short films plastered together, perhaps with some creepy inter-sequences. XX, a new horror anthology with four female directors presenting four terrifying tales, is the latter of the two. It features a dollhouse full of stop-motion babydoll heads & dead animals slamming doors and creeping into holes, laced between stories that set off much realer alarms. The films are all incredibly well done and successfully capture a specific aesthetic vision from their respective directors.
The first short, written and directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, and based on a short by Jack Ketchum, is a parental nightmare. Taking tips from Darren Aronofsky in the art of building intensity & repeated repulsion, “The Box” shows a family collapsing inward as a secret spreads through its members one by one, causing them to lose interest in eating—even if it means death. Sleek shots of beautiful cuisine match the days to their respective dinners, and yet the refusal to eat them, day after day, creates an abhorrent aura around consumption. The maternal/paternal response combats this odd sympathy… and there’s a particular madness of a parent whose child won’t eat.
The Birthday Party
Annie Clark, of St. Vincent fame, directed the second short, cowriting it with Roxanne Benjamin. Nothing in the history of my horror film viewing quite matches the experience that Clark set out to create here. An anxious mother attempts to cover up the death of her husband to make sure that her daughter’s birthday party goes as planned. The dazzling Sheila Vand (of A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night) has a haunting aura as an ultramodern maid who drifts around the house like a ghost while the mother avoids interaction. She knows. There’s intense musical clangs of doom coordinated with movements across a room, the realization of a death, or the appearance of a character dressed in black. This peculiar aspect of the film makes for an uneasy viewing experience, and matched with the intense color schematics, “The Birthday Party” is the most experimental of XX’s four shorts.
Written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin (whose previous production credits are in the V/H/S series, another excellent horror anthology), “Don’t Fall” fills the missed-turn niche. A group of freewheeling twenty-somethings travel through the Southwestern deserts. While hiking, they come across an ancient petroglyph depicting four people under a larger, demonic shape. Jokes about falling and the levels of poison in different kinds of scorpions add to the impending doom that the petroglyph initiated. In the dead of night, one of the four becomes inhabited by a grotesque incubus, brutally tearing apart the others as they try to escape. The short combines road-trip fears with ancient mysticism, creating something doubly disturbing.
Her Only Living Son
Karyn Kusama, the director of the cult horrors Jennifer’s Body and The Invitation, created the final act. The story slowly comes together at different points in time, with the increasing awareness that a mother’s son has aged to adulthood and now has eerily demonic habits. The mother seems to be on the run from the boy’s father, and the world they currently inhabit has an increasingly suspicious respect for the boy—no matter what he does. Much like The Invitation, this film employs that wide-eyed adoration only found in cult members, and the coming-of-age devil akin to Jennifer’s Body. Modern horror welcomes this thematic combination with open arms: a demonic figure being blindly worshipped is something we’re all very familiar with at this point in time.
XX was screened this weekend at Nitehawk Cinemas. Check out similar movies (picked by XX directors) screening at Nitehawk in the coming week here.