XX is a four part horror anthology is a fairly standard mix of horror tales linked with some creepy stop-motion and a gimmick that all the stories are seen from a female perspective (as well as written and directed by women).
Sofia Carrillo’s stop-motion animations are a bit pretentious and weird but certainly artistic. They start and finish the film, while also appearing between segments. However, we’re here for the proper stories and, as expected, XX is a mixed bag indeed.
The excellent Natalie Brown (who we loved in Being Human US and is, by far, the best thing about The Strain) stars in this curious tale. She’s Susan, a wife and mother and one day is riding the subway when her son asks a stranger what’s in his box. The man lets him look inside the shiny red present and then leaves.
From this point on Danny stops eating. He’s polite about it but just cannot eat anything and as Susan’s husband Robert starts to break down mentally from the strain of seeing his son being unable to eat, she has to hold the family together.
What’s good about this story is that Danny isn’t your usual creepy horror kid. He’s calm and likeable throughout which almost makes the whole thing creepier.
The premise here is great and could have made for some creepy Thinner-esque storytelling but in the end this segment goes nowhere and comes across as unfinished. Natalie Brown carries it well but the lack of a proper ending is just frustrating.
The Birthday Party
The film’s standout segment, The Birthday Party is a horror/comedy/farce which sees Mary trying to plan her kid’s birthday party while also finding her husband dead in his study. Rather than call for an ambulance or anything, she spends the day hiding the body while attempting to prepare for the party.
If that sounds a bit rubbish, well… it could have been. The saving grace here is the brilliant Melanie Lynskey who plays the part of Mary brilliantly and this segment’s finale just works. The music, the story and the humour all come together very well.
At a little over ten minutes long, Don’t Fall is the film’s shortest tale and is a fairly direct horror story that sees four friends camping on sacred ground. Having just re-watched Cabin in the Woods, this could easily pass for one of the film’s subplots. One of the friends becomes a monster and the others have to deal with it.
While the creature actually looks pretty good, the story just doesn’t have the time to make you care about the characters. It’s not a bad segment but is pretty thin.
Her Only Living Son
The film’s finale segment is a bleak but interesting tale. Cora (played by TV journeywoman Christina Kirk) is a mother who has been raising her son in difficult circumstances. The father, an apparently successful actor, has nothing to do with him and she keeps them moving from town to town, seemingly running from some sort of threat.
They’ve got an okay relationship but on his 18th birthday he begins to change and when his school refuse to punish him for a sadistic attack on another student, it becomes apparent that people are watching out for him.
When his true nature is revealed, it makes for some fairly ordinary but effective horror and because you see it from Cora’s perspective as a mother this does give the story more weight for sure. They do kind of botch the ending though. To the point where I had to watch the last bit over and over and in the end read what happened on Wikipedia, which confirmed it made absolutely no fucking sense.
Overall, XX is okay. Part one has the most promise but the weakest ending. Part two was a joy. Part three was well-executed but short and pointless. Part four is the most celebrated part and while the fear is there, it feels like it was made on a budget of ten quid.
The female-centric gimmick doesn’t really add much here either. If the film didn’t tell you, you’d probably never realise that was what it was doing. The critics liked it though (for that main reason) while the public seemingly hate it. We quite like it though. There’s been a lot of bad modern portmanteaus recently and, in that company at least, XX never really offends.