Sundance 2017 Review: ‘XX’ Four Terrifically Terrifying Tales for All Horror Fans
One of my most anticipated horror anthology films arrived at Sundance this week!
XX is a horror anthology made up of four short stories written and directed by four talented women. These filmmakers were given the creative freedom to tell whatever horror story they wanted. Other than the requirement of having a female in the lead role, their only constraints were budget and time. All of the directors were able to deliver four unique stories that do not disappoint.
Chapter 1 – The Box
The first chapter is “The Box”, based off of a story from Jack Ketchum. A mother, daughter, and son are on a crowded subway train headed home. The son sees a large box sitting on the lap of the man next to him and inquires about what is inside. The man gives the boy a peek. What the boy sees has deadly consequences for him and his entire family. Jovanka Vukovic provides a powerful start to the anthology that is creepy and full of surprises. The best part was the use of mystery, which created a consistent tension-filled atmosphere. The subtle makeup effects were also very well done. There is one gory scene that, while shocking, served the narrative and was not put in just for shock value. I interpreted this story as a metaphor for how secrets kept in a family can eat away at everyone.
Chapter 2 – The Birthday Party
Musician St. Vincent, a.k.a. Annie Clark, directs the most humorous of the four shorts. The Birthday Party is about a Mom who wants to provide her daughter with a great birthday party and she won’t let anything, including death, get in her way. This one definitely will appeal to those with a dark sense of humor. Veteran actress Melanie Lynskey, who plays the mother named Mary, shines in every scene she is in. She brought just enough humor to put a smile on your face while never going too over the top. You would not be able to tell this was Annie Clark’s first time directing. She keeps the short moving along and effectively uses musical queues in a few places to create the scares. It is a great first project for Annie Clark and I look forward to seeing more from her.
Chapter 3 – Don’t Fall
The third story will make you think twice about going hiking. A group of friends hike up to a very high ridge. After one of their members gets scared, she cuts her hand on a rock near some petroglyphs. That night, an evil arrives to terrorize them all. Director Roxanne Benjamin delivers a good old creature feature with scary makeup effects. I also enjoyed the interaction between the four friends. Benjamin avoids the cliché coupling that is normally seen in this type of short. This installment is the bloodiest of the shorts, with the most action scenes, which were handled with finesse to keep the audience’s heart pounding.
Chapter 4 – Her Only Living Son
They say nothing is stronger than the bond between a woman and her child. That bond is extremely tested in this story about a mother who tries to protect her son from his dark destiny. Directed by Karyn Kusama, I think this story would have made a great feature film. It is a bit of a slow burn compared to the other stories but it also ends with the most tragic punch. I loved the unpredictability of it. It is as much about a mother dealing with the fact her only son is growing up as it is supernatural horror. It is a dark, solid ending to the anthology.
In between the chapters were short stop-motion animated scenes created by Sofia Carrillo that looked fantastic and unnerving. All of the parts had a Hollywood-quality production value while still maintaining the indie film spirit. The shorts will make you cringe, laugh and hide behind your hands. XX is an excellent example of the female talent behind the cameras of indie horror cinema. If you enjoy Creepshow, Tales from the Crypt or American Horror Story, I recommend you seek this one out. XX will be out on VOD February 17th.