Monday, February 20, 2017

Review: XX

Review: XX
By William Pattison, aka Eric Morse
For Horror Bob’s Blog

Gore and scares! For my review this time I have the new anthology XX. This anthology was done by four female filmmakers: Jovanka Vuckovic, Roxanne Benjamin, St. Vincent aka Annie Clark, and Karyn Kusama. The film is made up of four terror tales connected by a weird animated wrap a round featuring an odd doll house with a doll’s face.
The first story is an adaptation by Jovanka Vuckovic of the overly treaded Jack Ketchum short story The Box. Honestly when I saw that they were doing The Box in this anthology I figured this segment was going to be the weakest of the stories given the fact that The Box has had three previous short film adaptation as well as a feature film. For those who somehow missed this story, in Ketchum’s original story a man with a messed up side of his face goes to a couple who is having financial problems and offers them the chance to get a million dollars. The only catch is they have to push a button inside a black box which will kill a random person. They only have a week to decide. Well, Vuckovic does a total re-writing of the tale. She still has the mysterious man and the box, but this time the box is red and has a big red bow on it. Vuckovic’s version starts on a train with a mother and two kids. A mystery man with a messed up eye is sitting nearby them holding the box. The mother’s son asks the man what is in the box. The man opens the box and shows him. From that moment on the boy refuses to eat. His father in one scene gets so frustrated he starts yelling at the boy who breaks down in tears but refuses to eat. Eventually the boy tells his sister what he saw and she refuses to eat as well. Then at the end the boy tells his father and he stops eating. You can gather the end of the story. Jovanka Vuckovic is brilliant in how she handles this story. Seriously, the way she films the food in the scene makes you hungry. It looks so appealing yet the boy and later his sister turns their noses up to it. This adaptation is psychological horror at its best and is in fact the strongest of the tales in this anthology.
The second story is by filmmakers Roxanne Benjamin and St. Vincent aka Annie Clark. It is titled The Birthday Party. It tells the tale of a mother who is having a costume party/ birthday party for her adopted daughter. Unfortunately, she finds the girl’s father dead in his den. Now the mother finds herself trying to hide the body from her daughter and the arriving party guests. She ends up disguising the body in a panda costume and sits it at the party table. Of course fate hits in a predictable ending.
I have to say this was the weakest story of the anthology and suffered from an annoying habit that some female filmmakers have. That is they fall so much in love with style and costuming that they forget the story and focus solely on visual elements. This is an issue I have with the Soskas as well. For instance the mother spends the entire story in a dark green nightgown with a mauve silk bathrobe. The daughter is wearing a supposed handmade ghost costume. The distracting thing is it is made out of a white overly shiny vinyl material. Then the other kids costumes look like nothing a modern kid would ever, and I mean ever, wear unless they were forced to. It looks like a twisted school play. Then of course the parents costuming and hair styles were horridly off. I doubt that any man, even a gay guy, would wear an orange tennis shirt with a atomic yellow sweater and puke green colored pants. With all these distracting costume elements it royally takes away from the focus of the story, which is the mother and her husband’s body.
The third story is a definite improvement over the last installment. I was directed by Roxanne Benjamin and is titled Don’t Fall. It tells the story of a group of vacationers who set up camp in an area they are not supposed to be near a ancient cave painting. The cave painting shows a group of figures. The figure in the middle is bigger than the others and appears to have horns. The group does some rock climbing, have a campout, and settle in their RV for a good night’s sleep. Well, that is when the fun begins….One of the girls wakes up in the middle of the night. She somehow had been moved up the rock face and was laying beneath the cave painting. She ends up being possessed by the evil entity that lives in the rock. Now the vacationers must try to escape their friend who has turned into a monster set to rip all of them to pieces.
I loved this story. It was a no nonsense monster story that was gritty and nasty in the tradition of The Evil Dead. The possessed girl-creature was awesome and all the FX were gory practical effects. I have nothing but praise for this installment.
The final story is titled Her only Living Son. It was directed by Karyn Kusama and tells the story of Cora, who has a special son named Andy who she spends her days protecting. Cora has had to move constantly to protect her son because some “crazy people,” as she calls them, want to take Andy and use him for their own purposes. Well, Andy’s eighteenth birthday is coming up and Cora worries that he might have to make a frightening decision.
I really enjoyed this installment. Both the actress that played Cora and Andy both did fantastic performances. In fact all the performances are top drawer. There is a scene where Cora in having a conference with the dean of Andy’s school. Supposedly Andy had pulled a fellow student’s finger nails off. Surprisingly, the dean tells Cora that she isn’t going to discipline Andy because he is a special boy and needs to be encouraged. The look on Cora’s face speaks volumes. The most frightening scene is towards the end of the story after Andy tells Cora that a strange woman told him his real father was coming to get him. He orders his mother to kneel before him and while she pleads about how she has done everything to protect him Andy strokes her hair with his hand which has changed and has long sharp finger nails. The best part of this story is when Andy’s father finally arrives the camera doesn’t show him but focuses solely on Andy and his mother. Also, though the end is bloody it is done well and fits the feel of the story rather than being overly grizzly.
So, in conclusion, I have to say that XX is a really good anthology film. If I was to give it a number rating I would give it a 3.5 out of 5. The reason I would not give it a full 4.0 is because I felt the cryptic wrap a round took away from the film. Also, as I said, I wasn’t very pleased with the second story. But, I will say that this anthology surprised me and is one I will recommend….
Keep on Creepin’, Horror Bob’s Blog….

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