XX

In a market seemingly dominated by male filmmakers, the concept of the horror anthology XX is certainly a clever one: It wishes to unite four female filmmakers to tackle short-form genre efforts. As with any anthology, though, judging the cumulative effort involves determining how many of its vignettes work, how many do not, and how cohesive the whole thing is. That's where this one stumbles, as any connective tissue (aside from the creepy stop-motion-animated interludes) is thin and a point to the enterprise is elusive. The quartet of films primarily follow a female character and witness that character being subjected to some sort of terrifying event, but the strength of the characters isn't really the focus here. Each film is an exercise in scare tactics, although those tactics range widely from the jump-inducing variety to the darkly comic.

"The Box," written and directed by Jovanka Vukovic, has a neat concept: Danny (Peter DaCunha), a young boy traveling on a train with his mother Susan (Natalie Brown) and sister Jenny (Peyton Kennedy), is invited to look in a man's (Michael Dyson) gift-wrapped package - a present, the man says - and that small glance proceeds to deteriorate the family (Jonathan Watton plays the father, Robert) from the inside out. The concept is the only thing here that really works, as the performances are stilted and any intrigue is short-lived. "The Birthday Party," co-written and directed by Annie Clark, is much better and very funny, featuring a woman (played by Melanie Lynskey) who is forced to hide her husband's corpse from the impending guests at her daughter's birthday celebration (The zinger that ends the short is particularly clever).

"Don't Fall," written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin (who also co-wrote the previous vignette), is the truly unfortunate segment here, telling nothing more than a stalk-and-slash tale in which four hikers (played by Casey Adams, Breeda Wool, Angela Trimbur, and Morgan Krantz) stumble upon an ancient tribal demon monster in the desert, leading to a lot of unconvincing makeup effects and amateurish performances. "Her Only Living Son," written and directed by Karyn Kusama, is a chilling piece of work, detailing a turbulant mother-son relationship in which the mother (played by Christina Kirk) is trying to protect her son (played by Kyle Allen) from his father for reasons that become clearer and more hair-raising as the film reaches its conclusion. It also helps that Kirk is solid in this role, delivering a monologue of unexpected effectiveness during a final confrontation.

The pieces of this anthology might vary in effectiveness (The fourth vignette is probably the better of the two that work, and the third one is easily the worst of all of them), but there is little cohesion in the whole. Three of the films seem connected by each featuring a mother willing to protect her child, but that doesn't explain the inclusion of the third film, unless they wanted to pad the film's length to its current eighty minutes (This makes the most sense, considering it doesn't even feature a conclusion). The filmmaking in each, with the exception of that third one, is solid enough, especially the crisp cinematography of the first vignette and a particularly effective score in the fourth one. XX nearly pulls itself through by the worthiness of the second and last vignettes, but it is too wobbly by half to distinguish itself.

Film Information

Natalie Brown (Susan), Jonathan Watton (Robert), Peter DaCunha (Danny), Peyton Kennedy (Jenny), Ron Lea (Dr. Weller), Michael Dyson (The Man), Melanie Lynskey (Mary), Seth Duhame (David), Sanai Victoria (Lucy), Sheila Vand (Carla), Lindsay Burdge (Madeleine), Casey Adams (Paul), Breeda Wool (Gretchen), Angela Trimbur (Jess), Morgan Krantz (Jay), Christina Kirk (Cora), Kyle Allen (Andy), Mike Doyle (Chet), Brenda Wehle (Principal Jenks), Morgan Peter Brown (Mr. Dayton), Lisa Renee Pitts (Kelly Withers).

An anthology featuring short films directed and written by Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, and Karyn Kusama.

Rated R (horror violence, language, brief drug use).

80 minutes.

Released in select cities on February 17, 2017.

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