It’s no secret that women are all too frequently shut out of the film industry, with few of them being able to make a living or having their work seen. In recent years, there has been a renaissance of genre films made by women, but their work is still a minority in cinemas or at film festivals.
It was a necessity to give some of these directors an outlet; a project which came to be known as XX. This project was originally announced with names such as Mary Harron (American Psycho) and the Soska sisters (American Mary) attached, but it eventually turned into a project for three lesser-known filmmakers and one first-timer – an exciting prospect and a bit of a disappointment, because it’s always a pleasure to see a new Harron film.
This version of XX is a bit of a mixed bag, but individually there is plenty to like. All four directors tackle their films from a feminist perspective, dealing with the concept of the monstrous feminine and the theme of a woman’s place within a western family. It was their executions which separated them: a large number of the segments unfortunately had a great set-up with no follow through or vice versa.
Jovanka Vuckovic’s introductory segment The Box, for example, creates an unbelievably tense scenario out of a McGuffin and an eating disorder, but it builds up to so much that Vuckovic can’t wrap it up within the allotted time. Meanwhile, Roxanne Benjamin’s Don’t Fall doesn’t have much of a set-up, but the film turns into the most bonkers take on the monstrous feminine since The Witch. The most high-profile director in the bunch, Karyn Kusama (The Invitation), makes the most disappointing entry – the demonic Her Only Living Son. It’s possible that it was disappointing when placed next to the other films, but its stripped-down style stood out in an underwhelming way; making it apparent that Kusama didn’t really have much to say. The shorts transition using an obligatory wraparound segment featuring stop-motion animation by Sofia Carrillo. These bits are beautifully set up with very little to say until the very end, simply calling attention to itself for the majority of XX’s runtime.
If you’re keeping track of the flms, you’ll notice I skipped over one – the best is saved for last. The Birthday Party by first-time director Annie Clark (better known as musician St. Vincent) is the strongest segment in XX. This darkly humorous segment sees Mary (Melanie Lynskey) trying to hide her husband’s dead body before a birthday party full of children arrive at her house. The bitter humour is counteracted by very dry performances by Lynskey and Sheila Vand (of A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night fame), along with vibrant yet muted colours and an attention to detail which has clearly transferred over from Clark’s music and stage shows. The Birthday Party knows it’s silly, and Clark embraces this awareness to its whole advantage – this should be a necessity in a lot more genre cinema.
XX does have its issues and rough edges (including an arguably transphobic title), but it’s worthwhile if you wish to see what the future of horror has in store and why Annie Clark should be given more filmmaking opportunities immediately.
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Shahbaz Khayambashi: @Shakhayam