DreadWorld Review: XX (2017)

History has shown time and again that the horror genre is usually the first of Hollywood's genres to embrace social change. While the general public foamed at the mouth over the "strong female lead" in Wonder Woman, we who love horror let out a collective shrug. We've had strong female protagonists for decades. From Laurie Strode and Ripley to Nancy Thompson and Sidney Prescott, strong, powerful women have been at the forefront of our genre for years. Despite the presence of a plethora of kick ass females in front of the camera, the number of women behind it has been rather lacking in comparison. A recent push by the industry as a whole to put more women in the directors chair, has been slow in manifesting. Leave it to the horror genre once again to try and kick down yet another door in Hollywood.

XX is the brain child of Jovanka Vukovic, the former editor in chief of Rue Morgue Magazine - and if you haven't read Rue Morgue - please just close this page and walk away. The horror genre has seen a boom in anthology film making over the past decade, but despite the plethora of anthology segments being filmed, the number of women actually sitting in the directors char has been slim. Vukovic seeks to right that ship a by recruiting four other female film makers and letting them loose in their own anthology.

There are four stories contained withing XX. They are linked together with interstitial animation courtesy of Sophia Carillo. While these segments are interesting, it's nothing we haven't seen in something like Tool's videos for "Sober" or "Prison Sex." They exist only as palate cleansers between segments and not for an linking or story telling purposes.

Vukovic's interpretation of Jack Ketcham's "The Box" kicks off XX proper. While the dread is certainly hits a fevered pitch in the film, it's conclusion lacks the punch needed to make it a great segment. It's lack of a satisfactory ending leaves a bad taste in your mouth after a well done previous 15 minutes or so. Despite it's flat ending the rest of the film is a white knuckled tension fest and a very good way to start off the films segments.

The second segment of XX is a wild card called "Birthday Party." Co-Written and directed by Annie Clark, better known as musician St. Vincent. To my knowledge (an I'm far too lazy to fire up the Google) this is her directorial debut. As a debut it's quite engaging. Hardcore horror fans will take issue with the fact that, while the situation presented by Clark (and co-writer Roxanne Benjamin) is certainly horrific, it's presented more as a black comedy. Think John Waters meets good Tim Burton. "Birthday Party" is a good short that is certainly on par with almost anything we've seen from the V/H/S series. It's a solid debut for Clark, and should have you looking forward to what she tackles next.

Moving from one surprise to another, although not a good one, Clark's segment is followed by the previously mentioned Roxanne Benjamin's "Don't Fall." When I read the directors list for XX, it was Benjamin's name that really got me excited. Her segment of the the excellent anthology Southbound was one of that films best. Unfortunately, "Don't Fall" does just what it warns against. It falls flat. It's an attempt at a monster film that goes almost nowhere. It feels rushed, thin, and disposable.

XX is closed out by its strongest segment, Karyn Kusama's "Her Only Living Son." Those that have seen Kusama's outstanding feature The Invitation will feel like putting on that old broken in pair of jeans while they watch "Her Only Living Son." Think The Invitation run through the prism of Rosemary's Baby and you will hit "Her Only Living Son" pretty square on the head. It's a wonderful short film and one of the best anthology entries of the last decade.

While XX has been lauded for its gender equality agenda, it's the film making that will really enable it to distinguish itself from the glut of anthology films that have flooded the market. Benjamin's segment may be a disappointment, but the three other segments are well above average. Each one delivers something different yet still centers around the destruction of the family as a unit. Some would argue that this is a distinct reflection of the gender of the film makers. I would argue the counter point, as a new father, the themes captures in XX are universal. Granted, the point of views may be a little different, but no one father, mother, male or female wants to see their family destroyed.

As far as anthology films go, XX is one of the better ones out there, regardless of whats going on in the directors private areas. As a statement on gender, I'm not sure what this says, then again, I'm not sure it matters. All four of these women certainly have the chops to make features regularly (Kusama already has with great success), hopefully they all get the opportunity. Hopefully we are still paying attention by then.

***1/2 stars out of *****

That's it for me. As always thanks for reading and "enjoy every sandwich."

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