A horror anthology made up of four shorts all done by female directors, XX is the kind of thing that the genre, and mainstream filmmaking itself, needs much more of. While the project itself has had a lot of hype since being announced in 2014 (under a different group of directors which are not present here), the end result is something of a misfire.
"The Box" directed by Jovanka Vuckovic starts the film off, based on a story by Jack Ketchum about a young boy who has become seemingly cursed after witnessing something peculiar on a subway train, in which he completely loses his appetite and slowly begins to affect the rest of his family. Its a strange mystery using lots of locations and characters, but gets to be rather monotonous in building towards the conclusion that one can see a mile away.
"The Birthday Party" directed by Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent to all you indie kids) has a visual aesthetic like a music video, except with no band playing, which I guess explains a lot about Clark's methods. Melanie Lynskey plays a woman getting ready for her husband's birthday, that slowly but surely turns into a creepy and disturbing affair, with an undercurrent of hilarity. Being the first thing Clark has directed, it shows a ton of promise, and I would love to see her do more work like this since she displays a lot of talent in terms of how the short is constructed.
"Don't Fall" directed by Roxanne Benjamin (Southbound) sees a group of friends on a hiking expedition encounter a supernatural curse after stepping into forbidden territory. Of all the shorts, its the one story that could have easily been a feature-length endeavour, though it moves at a fast pace via Benjamin capturing the essence of the situation by stripping it down to a core idea. This is the short I enjoyed the most, but wish it had more meat on its bones, especially given the talent involved.
Finally, "Her Only Living Son" directed by Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, Jennifer's Body, The Invitation) is the longest short of the bunch, where a mother (Christina Kirk) attempts to protect her son from the dark truths surrounding his parentage. Very strong from a tonal perspective, though given Kusama's pedigree that's a given, it makes for a compelling finish to the entire experience, despite lacking the energy of the shorts which precede it.
The transitions between each segment are carried out via stop-motion animation, done by Sofia Carrillo, which are fairly interesting and creative though feel discordant with the segments it bookends.
While I went into watching this with a lot of hype, as the horror anthology film has seen something of a resurgence with titles like Southbound, and the V/H/S series, and the concept itself had loads of possibility, XX is kind of a disappointment, with its first three shorts feeling like appetizers for the main course. The varying quality of each contribution is mostly at fault here, where there is a distinct lack of effective story presentation, or narrative progression, or even just not having enough frights to really be considered 'horror'. One can only wonder what it would have been like if the original directors Mary Harron, Jennifer Lynch, and the Soska Sisters had remained on board. At a cumulative 81 minute runtime, XX makes for a swift and light viewing option for genre fans, but a hardly memorable or intriguing affair.