When a film has a shitload of buzz around it and expectations are high, sometimes it is hard to not feel disappointed or underwhelmed by the final product. XX is a horror anthology that has a ton of buzz around it, but has had a pretty mixed reaction with horror fans. Personally, I have been really excited to check out XX as I’m a huge fan of anthologies, the trailer was intriguing and one of the directors was Karyn Kusama, who directed The Invitation and Jennifer’s Body, which are both films I absolutely love for completely different reasons. Did XX live up to all the buzz or was it an underwhelming disappointment?
XX is a anthology that features four segments written and directed by women filmmakers. Those filmmakers include Roxanne Benjamin (Southbound 2015), Annie Clark (also know by her musical alter ego St. Vincent), Karyn Kusama (The Invitation 2015), and Jovanka Vuckovic. The cast includes Natalie Brown (The Strain TV series), Jonathan Watton (Valerie On The Stairs 2006) Peter DaCunha (Hellions 2015), Peyton Kennedy, Melanie Lynskey (I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore 2017), Sheila Vand (A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night 2014), Lindsay Burdge (The Invitation 2015), Breeda Wool (Mr. Mercedes 2017), and Angela Trimbur (Trash Fire 2016).
The first segment, The Box, was written and directed by Jovanka Vuckovic. It follows a mother and her two children who, while on a train, meet a strange man who has a red gift box sitting in his lap. The mother’s son asks to see what is in the box and the man obliges. We never see whats in the box but I assume its something fucked up as the child soon losses his appetite, refusing to eat completely. The family tries everything in their power to get the boy to eat, to no avail. This segment had an interesting idea but it goes nowhere. You are given a hint halfway through and the hint completely pans out. The only mystery here is what’s in the box and that is never resolved. I did like the last half’s focus on the mother as she watches her family waste away but even this is hampered by a lack of logic. No hospital is going to just let three otherwise healthy people starve to death.
The second segment is The Birthday Party and was directed by Annie Clark from a script she wrote with Roxanne Benjamin. It follows a mother who is preparing for her young daughter’s birthday party. She finds her husband, who she thought wasn’t going to make it home for the party, dead in their house. She spends the entire short trying to keep her daughter and the party guest from discovering the body. I actually liked this segment quite a bit but it was a little tame for a horror anthology. The story features no horror elements and is really more of a dark comedy.
The third segment, Don’t Fall, was written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin. It follows a group of friends who go camping in the desert and encounter an evil spirit who proceeds to kill them one by one. This is a very standard horror story but I thought it was effective, at least until the end. It provides some much needed gore that was missing from the previous segments and has some decent creature effects. The creature’s movements were surreal and creepy. The problem is that we aren’t really given any background on the characters or the spirit/creature and there is no payoff. The short just ends.
The final segment was titled Her Only Living Son and was written and directed by Karyn Kusama. It follows a mother who has been on the run with her son for his entire life. As his 18th birthday approaches, she notices some disturbing changes in his behavior as well as the people around them. This felt, to me, like the most developed segment by far and was easily my favorite story. In its short running time, it managed to give some nice background on the mother as well as her motivations for running. We really don’t get to know too much about the son but I still felt emotionally invested due to the relationship with his mother. The ending wasn’t what I expected and was quite bittersweet but left me feeling satisfied. If I had one complaint about this segment, it would be that it feels a little rushed near the end. I feel like it easily could have supported a feature length storyline.
I really wanted to love XX but it just fell too short for me. While the stories had interesting ideas, most of them weren’t developed enough, lacked the twists usually associated with anthology films or were light on horror elements. While not the worst anthology I have ever seen, it was far from the best. At best, XX is a mixed bag.