Women rule in horror anthology XX

All-female-directed series of scary shorts features fine work by Toronto’s Jovanka Vuckovic and Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent

XX (Jovanka Vuckovic, Annie Clark, Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama). 80 minutes. Opens Friday (February 17). See listing. Rating NNN

Horror anthologies are enjoying a serious renaissance these days because the VOD market has proved such an enthusiastic home for anthologies of short, sharp shocks.

Sometimes they even sneak into theatres first – as XX does this week, barely a month after its debut in the midnight series at the Sundance Film Festival.

XX is the first horror anthology directed exclusively by women, which adds an intriguing new twist to interpreting the material. Does the fact that three of the four pieces focus on mothers trying to protect their children indicate a specifically female perspective, or is a family in crisis simply fertile ground for the genre?

I’m not even going to try to answer that. The only real question is whether the shorts themselves succeed, and more do than don’t.

Toronto filmmaker Jovanka Vuckovic’s The Box, about a woman (Natalie Brown) whose family falls victim to an inexplicable malaise, unfolds with a slippery menace, and Karyn Kusama’s Her Only Living Son is an ingenious reworking of a very familiar story, with Christina Kirk as a secretive woman trying to soothe her dangerously unstable teenager (Kyle Allen) on the eve of an important birthday. As she did in her feature The Invitation, Kusama creates a feeling of nerve-shredding menace beneath a flimsy façade of good manners once her story fully reveals itself, it all pays off beautifully.

The Birthday Party, from relative newbie Annie Clark (aka the musician St. Vincent), stars Melanie Lynskey as an L.A. mom tasked with hiding a body in her home before the eponymous event. More comic than creepy – and featuring A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night’s Sheila Vand in a fun role as Lynskey’s prowling assistant – it ends with a brilliant, perfectly delivered punchline.

And then there’s Roxanne Benjamin’s Don’t Fall, about four friends who run afoul of an ancient evil while camping. The usual stuff happens, executed crisply but without any surprises or curve balls. It’s the only piece that feels kinda basic, but those who grooved on the grimy splatter of Benjamin’s Southbound should enjoy it. And if they don’t, it’s over pretty quickly.

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