Originally published on this site here, in Italian.
Produced by: XYZ Films
Directed by: Roxanne Benjamin; Sofia Carrillo; Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent); Karyn Kusama; Jovanka Vuckovic
Written by: Roxanne Benjamin; Sofia Carrillo; Annie Clark; Karyn Kusama; Jovanka Vuckovic
Cinematography: Ian Anderson; Tarin Anderson; Patrick Cady; Shane Daly
Special effects and Make-up by: Roy Knyrim; Galaxy San Juan; Mark Wotton
Edited by: L. Gustavo Cooper; Josh Ethier; Courtney Marcilliat; Aaron Marshall; Zach Wiegmann
Music by: Jefferson Friedman; John C. Houston IV; Carly Paradis; St. Vincent; Craig Wedren
Running time: approximately 77 minutes
Budget: 2.000.000 $ (source: English Wikipedia)
Receipt: 30.911 $ in the USA, 24.757 $ in Turkey, for a total of 55.668 $ (source: Box Office Mojo); 55.486 $ (source: English Wikipedia)
WARNING – THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
A horror anthology directed by women to show that women too can shoot a good horror movie.
Yes, said like this, it might seem a small thing, at least to those who are not interested in gender issues. However, it must be said that, at least according to the authors of this film, the women directors of horror movies would not be so many1. However, there’s much more to say.
And in fact the first thing is that, if it’s true that the directors and main characters are all women, the production has the face of a man: it was in fact Todd Brown, for XYZ Films, who believed in the project (originally conceived as a crowdfunding project by Jovanka Vuckotic) and gave the basic guidelines2.
That said, the first goal of XX is to show how even women know how to shoot a horror. And it must be said that in fact, at the time of work, the authors had already directed (even successfully) some movies, and that in any case they were not total newcomers: Roxanne Benjamin had already directed an episode of the Southbound anthology (2013); Sofia Carrillo had signed a whole series of stop-motion shorts, of which La Casa Triste (2013) and Prita Noire (2011) can be seen for free on Youtube3; Annie Clark was actually at her premiere, but had a singing career behind her as St. Vincent; Karyn Kusama was the author of The Invitation (2015) and Jennifer’s Body (2009); Finally, Jovanka Vuckovic had directed another short film, The Captured Bird (2012).
In short, these directors were not exactly on their first assignment and had already shown that they had something to say.
The film is composed of four episodes all focused on women, with the aim, among other things, to slightly disrupt the roles that gender stereotypes have assigned them both in society and, more specifically, in its cinematographic projection.
The woman as a wife or mother, good at cooking or, at most, at educating the fruits of her sin. The woman who lives on her home and her family life. The woman good at screaming in fear or at being slaughtered in the most imaginative and spectacular ways (usually calibrated on her degree of disinhibition or emancipation with respect to social4 conventions).
In short, a further purpose (although perhaps secondary) of this film would seem to be to change a certain image of the woman, which is certainly also present in society and certainly can legitimately be put on the screen, but which is seen here as too generalizing, predominant over real data: in short, a stereotype5.
But since the intentions or the belonging of the author to a certain social category are not enough to build a judgment on the work, let’s go down a moment into the concrete.
The episodes, as said before, are four.
The first one, The Box (directed by Jovanka Vuckovic and based on a story by the recently deceased Jack Ketchum), is perhaps the most interesting from the point of view of the plot, which has a slight Lovecraftian influence. A mother (Natalie Brown) is in the subway with her two children; his son looks inside a gift package that a mysterious individual brings with him. From that day the child becomes inappetent.
Family dramas, a mother sometimes a little disconnected from reality (while her children are inappetent and her husband is upset about it, she eats heartily), nightmares of all kinds until the end of the episode.
The second episode, The Birthday Party (directed by Annie Clark), is much more ironic. Mary (Melanie Lynksey) has planned a big party for her daughter’s birthday. Only problem: her husband, found dead due to a stroke in his office.
The strong points of this episode are in part the direction, with the slow motion towards the end (and an unmistakable lip), but above all the costumes and the scenography: we are in the world of Edward Scissorhands, with the terraced houses treated to detail, the colorful furnishings, the maids dressed in a fantastic black and a corpse with the whiskey in hand from the night before.
Interesting. Ironic and interesting.
Inspired, it seems, by a true story6.
The third episode, Don’t Fall (directed by Roxanne Benjamin), is the most disengaged: its own director admits she had deliberately made a simple “fun roller coaster jump scare movie“7.
The reference is to the teen horror films of yesterday and today. We are in the desert, where a group of teenagers decided to have a picnic. They find by chance some rock paintings, whose powers they inadvertently awaken. The massacre begins.
Strengths: the way the title appears, the rock paintings (which is always a pleasure to see), the special effects.
The fourth episode, Her Only Living Son (directed by Karyn Kusama), belongs to the Antichrist subgenre.
Cora (Christina Kirk) had a son by a great actor, who then eclipsed and now lives in Hollywood “with a girlfriend in every port” (Cora’s own words). This son, Andy, is now 18 years old. Andy is little more than a young delinquent, but this does not seem to interest anyone: the school itself avoids sanctioning him, and it’s during an interview with the principal that Cora begins to hear strange speeches.
The more time passes the more these speeches become insistent, while Andy begins to undergo mutations such as claw-like nails, guttural sounds that he emits as in a sort of retching, diffused down: Andy is the Devil’s son, the Antichrist destined to reign on Earth.
And Cora? Will she leave him to that father who, in addition to being the Devil, didn’t show up for 18 years and left them there to rot?
This episode presents a good mix of ingredients: the story of a single mother and her son; the ravings of the followers of Satan that are enjoyable as always, especially with the gloomy music that accompanies them while Cora observes her interlocutors as stunned; few effects and few make-ups put in the right place.
Finally, the episodes are interspersed and introduced by a series of truly beautiful stop-motion animations directed by Sofia Carrillo.
In conclusion, a couple of things must be said.
This film aimed, among other things, to counteract the stereotypes about women in films.
On this front, at first glance, it seems that the women in XX are not too different from those we see at least for some years in the most careful films, whether they are horror or not.
The real difference, however, is in the overall vision: it is the look given to the characters and the stories that is undoubtedly more balanced than usual. No moralizing subtext8, as is sometimes seen, but a thoughtful gaze that does not take the trouble to judge the viewer nor perhaps the same characters: and it’s on this, on some almost invisible details that the difference is played.
A difference that then, if we take a good look, is not even between a male and a female look, but on a more or less deep look and a more or less superficial one9.
Finally, the primary target was, as mentioned in the first lines of this review, to prove that there are women capable of shooting a horror movie.
Well, what emerges from this film is that indeed, yes, there are women capable of shooting a horror film, or at least of shooting good quality horror short films and then bringing them together in a complete anthology. And if we add that at least Karyn Kusama had already directed some feature films, the picture is complete.
And at this point, however, a question, that is actually an invitation, must be put: if this stereotype exists, but there is now also this film, then a girl who intends to demonstrate that she knows how to shoot a horror film has only to enroll in a film directing course or to directly pick up the smartphone or a camera and start from scratch.
Doing, doing, doing: that’s the way to prove our existence. This seems to be the last message of this movie.
In conclusion, XX is a good movie, and works well both as a set of short films and as a themed anthology: it has an uplifting message, an even interesting direction and script, special effects always in the right place despite the low budget, an irony not at all intrusive.
Gomarasca, Manlio; Pulici, Davide. Booklet attached to the XX Italian Limited Edition released by Midnight Factory, 2017
Box Office Mojo – http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=xx2017.htm (last visit 15/07/2018)
Box Office Mojo – http://www.boxofficemojo.com/movies/?page=intl&id=xx2017.htm (last visit 15/07/2018)
Comingsoon.net – http://www.comingsoon.net/horror/features/803659-exclusive-interview-director-jovanka-vuckovic-talks-xx (last visit 02/08/2018)
Comingsoon.net – http://www.comingsoon.net/movies/features/813053-annie-clark-roxanne-benjamin-talk-xx (last visit 30/07/2018)
English Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/XX_(film) (last visit 28/07/2018)
Mubi.com – https://mubi.com/lists/horror-films-directed-by-women-1966-2014 (last visit 02/08/2018)
Youtube – FICM channel – La Casa Triste, by Sofia Carrillo – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TrlVr53rI5Q (last visit 28/07/2018)
Youtube – FICM channel – Prita Noire, by Sofia Carrillo – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGcujTaRkp4 (last visit 28/07/2018)
- In the interviews included on the DVD they talk about things like 7% of horror directors. Regardless of how many they are, however, for a list we don’t know how exhaustive of horror directed by women, see here.
- See here and here.
- On the channel of the Festival Internacional de Cine de Morelia, in Mexico: see here and here.
- Not to say tribal.
- Using the words of Jovanka Vuckovic, what they tried to do with XX was to “portray women as actual human beings“. See both here and the booklet attached to the Italian DVD edition, released by Midnight Factory in 2017.
- See here.
- See here
- Something like, “Be careful, you male viewer: the most emancipated girl is actually a monster, so stay away from women who are too emancipated and look for one without strange ideas”. Which in the version “for women” could be translated with: “Attentive, female spectator: the most emancipated girl is actually a monster, and therefore make sure to not entertain too many strange ideas or you will scare the male spectator who watched this movie the other night and to which we have said the same thing“.
- It must also be said that some stereotypes come out anyway, be them gender stereotypes or related to the horror genre: the studious and the brute characters of the group in Don’t Fall, as well as the two girls, are those typical of the teen horror subgenre, for example.