XX is being sold as the first “all female horror anthology.” The fact that it’s never been done before is sadly not too surprising. Horror has never truly shaken off its image as being one big boys’ club, despite the presence of filmmakers such as Ana Lily Amipour (A Girl Who Walks Home Alone at Night), Jennifer Kent (The Babadook), and Karyn Kusama (The Invitation); all of whom have offered something refreshing and new to say about the genre.
In XX, we are presented with four vignettes all firmly centred around a female protagonist trying to maintain control. The Box, directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, and Her Only Living Son, from the aforementioned Kusama, are perhaps the strongest thematically. Both directors give the anthology its true heart, exploring the complicated nature of motherhood. In each film, we see the protagonists try to stand defiant in the face of otherworldly influences, which can be interpreted to be any number of corrupting influences feared by parents.
The Birthday Party, marking the directorial debut of musician Annie Clark, (aka St Vincent), walks through similar territory, but her markedly different approach offers the anthology’s lighter side. It might not be the strongest contender visually, but it makes up for it with its macabre sense of humour. Don’t Fall, from Roxanne Benjamin, seems to dispense with any pretense of subtlety and charges headlong into gore splattered slasher. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se. However, it does disrupt from the overall tone of the anthology that can even be felt in XX’s captivating stop motion framing device, which was directed by Sofia Carrillo. A distinct lack of an ending doesn’t do it any favours either.
Viewed as an overall package, XX is not as satisfying as it could be, but it does put its scares in the right places and its tales never outstay their welcome. And whilst your mileage will likely vary from film to film, it is successful in providing a soundboard for filmmakers whose voices may ordinarily be drowned out in the male-dominated arena.