Horror anthologies always get my attention, and this one, as a collaboration of all female directors, has been of particular interest, and for the most part, I wasn’t disappointed.
There are four tales in this film: THE BOX, THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, DON’T FALL, and HER ONLY LIVING SON. Each one has a distinct style and tone of its own, and a different approach to what is and can be perceived as horror.
THE BOX follows the fate of a family after the son is shown a secret in a shiny red box while riding a commuter train home during the holiday season. After seeing what was in the box, he stops eating entirely. Soon, though, as his parents’ worry increases, young Danny shares the secret of what he saw with his sister and father, and they too stop eating and begin wasting away. The horror is borne out through the mother’s growing desperation to save her family, which then turns into a gnawing need to share their fate by joining them… but she has not yet found a way of learning the secret and following them.
THE BOX is directed by Jovanka Vucokic, from a screenplay that she adapted from an award-winning short story by horror legend Jack Ketchum.
THE BIRTHDAY PARTY follows an anxious housewife who tries vainly to keep up appearances for the sake of her daughter’s birthday party following a horrible discovery first thing that morning. The slow unveiling of the dilemma and the absurd lengths that she goes to to keep that secret from the children and her friends that are coming in during the day for the party plays on the deep-seated terror many people (neurotic or not) have about being harshly judged by peers and possibly losing status.
THE BIRTHDAY PARTY is the directorial debut of Grammy-award winning musician Annie Clark, and written by Roxanne Benjamin & Annie Clark.
DON’T FALL follows a group of friends as they venture a little too far off the beaten trails during their camping trip, and discover that some places — and creatures — are better off left undisturbed. Though this story follows the “horror in the wilderness” script perfectly, and the tropes are almost expected, they are cleverly tweaked here and there to present a compelling and appealing tale.
DON’T FALL is written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin.
HER ONLY LIVING SON shows the fears of a single mother and the struggles of her son, who’s on the verge of turning 18 and discovering his true heritage. Her fear and faith provide a strong contrast to the anger and confusion of the son she’s protected his entire life. This story plays out as an intriguing epilogue to a possible future from events in the film Rosemary’s Baby, and the mother’s empathy for her son’s potential fall combined with the strength of her belief that he can choose a different path despite the dark forces that are constantly pushing him are seen in equal measure with her fears about his true nature being unstoppable.
HER ONLY LIVING SON is written and directed by Karyn Kusama.
Personally, I thought DON’T FALL and HER ONLY LIVING SON were the best of the collection, with THE BOX coming right behind with slow building intensity. THE BIRTHDAY PARTY fell flat for me, and those who know me would likely say that it’s from having a patent dislike for comedy, and that may be true. But the acting, dialogue and the implied horror of “being exposed” to superficial friends and neighbors as being “less than” is played more for anxiety than real horror, but the stab at black comedy is appreciated.
Overall, an enjoyable collection that I wouldn’t mind seeing more of, either in collaborations with another set of female directors, or more from this same group.
Rating: 3.5 stars
XX is a new all-female helmed horror anthology featuring four dark tales written and directed by fiercely talented women: Annie Clark (St. Vincent) rocks her directorial debut with THE BIRTHDAY PARTY; Karyn Kusama (THE INVITATION, GIRLFIGHT) exorcises HER ONLY LIVING SON; Roxanne Benjamin (SOUTHBOUND) screams DON’T FALL; and Jovanka Vuckovic (THE CAPTURED BIRD) dares to open THE BOX. Award-winning animator Sofia Carrillo (LA CASA TRISTE) wraps together four suspenseful stories of terror featuring a cast including Natalie Brown, Melanie Lynskey, Breeda Wool and Christina Kirk.
Cast: Natalie Brown, Melanie Lynskey, Breeda Wool and Christina Kirk
Directors: Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama