Women are often praised for their emotional complexity. We keep a lot of balls in the air, seemingly effortlessly moving from work to friends to family. It’s a double-edged sword. Tending to multiple needs at once can be a strength. It’s gratifying to feel accomplished and can benefit others. But when we overlook our own needs, we suffer. We’re stretched too thin, taken for granted, neglected.
The horror anthology XX illustrates what happens when women are in the latter. Four short films show women who have lost their power in dynamics like motherhood, friends, and family. Even if you haven’t directly experienced these, you’ve probably been affected by the aftermath. The stealth of secrecy can steal your identity and strength.
Each was written and/or directed by a woman–Roxanne Benjamin, Sofia Carrillo, Karyn Kusama, Annie Clark (St. Vincent), and Jovanka Vuckovic. The styles are distinct, as different as women themselves.
XX begins with “The Box,” which is stark. It moves through each scene like you’re holding your breath, waiting for a sound, a yell, a jump, anything. But its intensity lies in what doesn’t happen. There’s an ever-present question mark. No one is telling anyone exactly what’s going on, and there’s no trust. It’s fascinating how Jovanka Vuckovic was able to capture such ephemeral feelings with so little, and it speaks to her mastery. Sometimes the scariest things are the most quiet. When you’re left without an explanation and no way of knowing what happened.
Annie Clark’s “The Birthday Party” is almost humorous. The lengths the main character goes to to hide a secret are absurd, but that just points out how damaged we can be by what other people hide from us. The colors are bright, and it’s almost time for a party, but you’re not allowed to fully enjoy it as long as you know you are being stifled.
XX wouldn’t be a horror anthology without a throwback to the genre with blood, blood, and more blood. “Don’t Fall” plays with the idea of fear and the weak becoming the strong. The main character gets revenge on her mates, attacking them where they thought they were safe. It can be entertaining for what it is–surprising and gross, like Nightmare or Scream. But it could also be seen as a commentary on having a healthy appreciation of the unknown. Sometimes our culture is so foolish that it steals respect from things better left as they are.
“Her Only Living Son” closes the series with another classic horror theme: the devil’s child. A single mother and her son lead a quiet life, but the tension pulls tightly at every scene. The mom has lost control of her 18-year-old, and she’s at a loss for articulate it or deal with it. She’s a sorry sight, but you find yourself being annoyed by her and her lack of control. There’s a history of why, but like many of us, we don’t confront that until it’s too late. You aren’t sure if the whole story was an exaggeration of the mother’s inhibited feelings, or if Satan was actually going to reclaim her son.
Each vignette is tied together with a Tim Burton-esque stop-motion animation. You see bits of a larger story each time. A disembodied doll goes from room to room of its dilapidated, rotting doll house, trying to revive it. It places items in different rooms like vital organs. It’s not until the end that you see it’s trying to wake you up.