As almost everyone knows, I have been (not-so-patiently) waiting for XX to come out for several years. The first released all-women directed horror anthology is of course something that I would be anticipating given my passion for horror films and my scholarship on feminist film. I’m going to try very hard not to spoil any of the shorts here and these are just initial cursory thoughts. The themes of social connections, particularly motherhood and family, ran throughout all of the pieces. The familial tension that runs throughout the film is palpable and speaks to the ways in which women’s storytelling often addresses the anxieties of contemporary women attempting to deal with struggle between feminism and conservative American social norms.
First, I do think everyone should see this film for several reasons, including of course that it is the first all-women directed horror anthology but also because there is some really great camera work and story-telling in parts. There were some very strong cinematographic moments, specifically in Benjamin and Kusama’s shorts. I know that some folks are expressing disappointment in the film. Unlike most horror anthologies, XX did not have a broader narrative tying the pieces together, being drawn together only by thematic similarities. The acting in all of the pieces was excellent overall.
As with all anthologies, some of the vignettes were stronger than others, with my favorites being Vuckovic and Kusama’s. I felt the mix of humor and exasperation in Clark’s piece was fun and interesting, but the piece suffered a bit from lack of overall narrative explanation, which is also my critique of Benjamin’s piece. Both Clark and Benjamin’s have a great deal of potential, though they needed more time and exploration. Benjamin’s “Don’t Fall” was the only film the invoked the horror trope of the monster, which led to some amazing creature effects. It is the short though that left me most perplexed because it was the least fleshed out narrative, with a lot of narrative holes. Vuckovic’s “The Box” was quiet and menacing, a type of familial drama that feels simultaneously real and horrific. In this short, the not-knowing heightens the fear for the audience. Kusama’s “Her Only Living Son” was a beautiful vignette of a mother’s battle to save her son; at moments subtle and at others overtly questioning the idea of nature and nurture. Finally, Sofia Carrillo’s animation for the credit sequence and the intertitles was darkly fascinating.
Since I just re-read Isabel Pinedo’s Recreational Terror, I was also struck by how much these shorts felt like the post-modern horror films Pindeo discusses, particularly in her assertion that they resist narrative closure. Three of the four pieces in XX do not come to any true type of narrative conclusion—having somewhat open-ended constructions—leaving the audience to ponder what comes next for the characters. While I can see why some people were left unimpressed with the film, the film offered a good foray into feminist horror and to the more subdued horror that is more cerebral and emotional than shocking and terror-fueled. I hope to see additionally feature length films by these directors, which would offer them the ability to articulate more fully constructed narratives.
I do wish that there had been a more concerted effort to include more women techs and behind camera roles in the making of the film. I understand that the state of filmmaking is dismal for women producers, directors, cinematographers (the exception is Tarin Anderson, who did work on “The Birthday Cake” and “Don’t Fall”), and such, but I would have liked to have seen more women behind the scene and more diversity overall. The best part of this film in many ways is the culturally impact of having these strong women directors talking to the media and horror fans about the state of horror but also the representation of women directors in Hollywood and beyond.
I would very much recommend that folks watch XX, but also go look at Vuckovic’s The Captured Bird (which I love and regularly teach) and Kusama’s The Invitation and Jennifer’s Body. I also liked Benjamin’s Southbound piece “Siren.”