by Tim Birkbeck
Sometimes keeping things simple is the best formula. In an era of shock tactics, whether it be in the cinematic world or the real world, the boundaries of violence and gore have been pushed to a point that many have become numb to it. So when presented with four short stories all engulfed in the horror genre for XX without doing any research you could be forgiven for thinking this could be a bloodfest.
Horror anthologies may not work for everyone, the idea of four separate films which have no link can leave some viewers with a bit of a bitter taste in their mouths, and for XX it is to some extents an acquired taste. The thing that all four directors do so well is taking the genre back to its most basic of roots, making their audience feel on edge every step of the way, but it is how they do it which makes this film even more enjoyable, because in essence they don’t do much they just sow the seeds.
At the heart of XX is four female directors who have shot four short horror films, each with a woman at its centre. Each stakes out a very different space within the genre from a wide variety of perspectives and voices.
With a creepy introduction to the tales by Mexican stop-motion animator Sofia Carrillo, whose ornately gothic haunted-toybox is the glue that pieces the four films together, the first ‘action’ is brought to us by Jovanka Vuckovic’s “The Box”. And again it is such simplicity that nothing is revealed that builds the tension, leaving this reviewer shouting what the fuck is going on. Even though it may not be a Horror in the traditional sense of things – jumping out of your seat every five minutes – but in a short 20 minute period Vuckovic builds such incredible tension that that is all that is required.
This head scratching, hair pulling method is continued on in musician-turned-filmmaker Annie Clark’s (better known in the media as St. Vincent) “The Birthday Party”, which if I am being totally honest was my personal favourite of the four stories.
The story sees the a frantic Melanie Lynskey playing a mother trying to organise a party for her seven-year-old daughter, but when she discovers he husband dead her new priority to to hide the body. The panic which sets in is made even more real to the audience by the presence of the creepy, yet beautiful nanny Carla (Sheila Vand), who you are left questioning what is her motive. But what really makes this is the closing shot of just the camera focusing on Lynskey’s face as the viewer realises that madness is about to take over.
The only real quote on quote horror film in these four tales is Roxanne Benjamin’s “Don’t Fall” which has supernatural beasts and blood and guts, but with the final chapter we return to the tension element with Karyn Kusama’s “His Only Living Son”. The stories may not have a running theme through them, or a common link. But what XX does is showcase four very talented filmmakers in a short space.
If this was the first introduction to any of these directors works then for me the film has done its job in opening up new filmmakers to the viewer. XX may not leave you having nightmares, but it will leave you thinking “well that was fucked up” which if you think about it kind of has the same impact.
Dir: Jovanka Vuckovic, Karyn Kusama, Roxanne Benjamin and Annie Clark
Scr: Jovanka Vuckovic, Karyn Kusama, Roxanne Benjamin and Annie Clark
Cast: Natalie Brown, Peter DaCunha, Melanie Lynskey, Sheila Vand, Breeda Wool, Angela Trimbur, Christina Kirk and Kyle Allen
Prd: Daniel Bekerman and Roxanne Benjamin
Running time: 78 min
XX is out on DVD now.