I can't believe it's 2017 and I have to just now be excited about the fact that we finally have a horror anthology film directed by all women. It bums me out that I have to introduce a review of said anthology by pointing out the fact that it's the first of its kind, though I guess both the title of the movie and all of its marketing absolve me of that by leading with that hook. I get it. This is a big deal and should be celebrated. I just look forward to a time when it's the norm -- when a horror film doesn't have to announce the gender of its filmmakers as a way of setting itself apart and hopefully signaling progress.
I hold none of this against the five directors involved with XX, nor with the producers who helped put the film together. The fault lies in horror fandom and in every producer who ever turned down this or any such similar idea. It's too easy for something like XX to be labeled an experiment -- a novelty that everyone applauds and talks about during Women in Horror Month and before proceeding to ignore women in horror for the remaining 11 months. XX should not be the culmination of efforts made by so many female filmmakers in the genre. XX should be just the beginning.
But enough of my soapbox ranting, as I suspect no one has come to this review of XX for a lecture about issues of gender representation in horror (though I would argue that without these issues, maybe XX doesn't need to become a thing...and there I go again.). A collaboration between five female filmmakers -- Jovanka Vukovic, Annie Clark (aka musician St. Vincent), Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama and Sofia Carrillo, who directs the anthology's gorgeous stop-motion wraparound segments -- XX is another in a recent run of really strong, really interesting anthologies that represent so much of what is exciting about current independent horror. While I don't think the movie features a true standout sequence, I don't think there's a weak link, either. And seeing as how consistency is one of the greatest obstacles most horror anthologies must face -- most of them unsuccessfully, it should be noted -- the fact that XX is able to keep the quality control up from start to finish should not go unmentioned.
The second installment, "The Birthday Party," which marks the directorial debut of rock star St. Vincent and is co-written by her and Roxanne Benjamin, follows a suburban mother (Melanie Lynsky) preparing a birthday party for her daughter and discovering that her husband has died suddenly in the house. Rather than ruin the day, she does her best to cover up the problem until the party is over. Benjamin goes it alone as writer and director of "Don't Fall," the third entry in XX and the only one that aims for balls-out horror. A group of friends camp for a night in the desert, discovering some strange cave paintings that depict some sort of monster. Before you can say "don't fall," one of the women is possessed by said monster and begins attacking her friends. Finally there's "Her Only Living Son" from Karyn Kusama, in which a single mother (Christina Kirk) grows concerned about the behavior of her son (Kyle Allen) as he turns 18 and begins asking questions about the identity of his father -- questions best answered with a viewing of a certain Roman Polanski film.
That leaves Roxanne Benjamin's "Don't Fall" as the movie's orphan -- the one that stands apart because it's not really about anything but being an exercise in terror. That doesn't make it any less as a short taken on its own, but it does make it feel somewhat out of place in XX and suggests the need for the anthology to have either more thematic consistency or less. There's a connective tissue that runs through most of the movie that I believe happened mostly by coincidence, but it's not present in "Don't Fall" and both the segment and the overall movie suffer as a result. Again, this is not mean to be a knock on the work that Benjamin does -- if this was just released as a short film, I would have nothing to complain about -- but just that its placement within the movie draws attention to the fact that it doesn't interact with the other segments particularly well.
XX is currently playing in limited release and is available to rent on VOD and iTunes.