XX [Review by SpecialK]
Ladies, gather ’round. That’s right, circle up. Vanessa and Susie, put down the feather pillows, let’s not fight. Becky, those frilly PJs are adorable! Stacy, cap that nail polish, and Jessica, pause just a sec, you can finish braiding Amanda’s hair later. I’ve got a secret to share: girls can make pretty pictures on the big screen, too!
Look, I really, truly wanted to like XX. I’d been awaiting its release for months. Finally, I thought, a suite of horror films showcasing the power of women filmmakers. I pictured creativity, dynamism, and a new take on my favorite genre. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but I knew each film would be singular, bold, and even scarier than my worst nightmares. Surely, a compilation dedicated to brilliant terroristas would offer no less.
Would you believe I even had a whole theme planned for my review? I’d present each film like a waiter describing a chef’s award-winning tasting menu at a fine restaurant. Apéritif, first course, main dish, and dessert—just the perfect little meal. So you can imagine my shock when the first offering was chicken nuggets. Decent ones, but still, chicken nuggets. Next course? Chicken nuggets. Main dish? Sure, we can spice it up. Fried chicken. And dessert? More nugs. Girls, I know we can do better than this.
The Box. In our first glimpse of frighteningly feminine fiction, a stereotypically successful suburban family is torn apart when a young son refuses to eat after being shown something in a gift box by a man on a subway. The inexplicably robotic and perfectly-primped mom finds herself increasingly isolated as the boy’s failed appetite seems to infect the rest of her family like the flu. And gosh darnit, she can’t seem to connect with them despite her best efforts. A decently crisp little film full of tasteful wardrobe selections, delicious-looking food that goes untouched, and a secret just out of reach, The Box still misses the target with a less-than-satisfying ending. But perhaps given the underlying themes of hunger and yearning, this was the whole point. Ok, fine. A bit heavy-handed on the suburban mom front, but I think to myself, that box had to be checked—pun intended. Onto the next course.
Birthday Party. The lid comes off the plate and voilà! Another housewife’s homage. This time, the protagonist slaps on a smile to cover up her utterly unsatisfied life on the morning of her daughter’s birthday. In prepping to host the party, mom stumbles upon the dead body of her husband, and horrorlarity ensues as she tries to keep it under wraps while guests start to show up. Pressure mounts from other soccer moms and the too-perfect nanny, each dressed up like The Hunger Games’ city dwellers, and our main character can’t seem to keep it all together. How will she cope?
Don’t Fall. Ah yes, a bit of a break as we reach our main course. No mom in sight, and we are finally changing it up. Four friends—two guys and two girls—are hiking in a remote desert park and settle down for the night. Our meander away from the momtales swings even further left as we discover that the ladies are in fact dating, but don’t need an onscreen makeout to prove it. Unfortunately, one of the women finds herself feeling a little off after suffering a sting on her hand near some ominous ancient petroglyphs. Something seems to come over her as she sleeps, and friends beware, this night will be a rough one. A welcome departure from the rest, Don’t Fall probably showcases the best scares of the bunch, but honestly, that’s not saying a whole lot.
Her Only Living Son. What’s this? Oh right, nuggets for dessert. We are back with yet another mom trying to do right by her kid. This one has a teenage son who seems to be causing a lot of violent trouble at school. But when everyone around her thinks her boy can do no wrong and he develops a devilish power that cannot be controlled, will this mom do what she knows is right?
Laaaaadies. Please. I just cannot even with these films. I thought female horror filmmakers set out to break the mold, not empty themselves right into it. These themes slay me. Struggling to bear the heavy pressures of suburban living. Carrying the dead weight of men around. Sacrificing her very body and soul for the sake of a family that will never see her true value. Am I stuck in a scene from Mad Men, or have I literally traveled back to the middle of the 20th century?
We absolutely have to stop bludgeoning these old-school feminist themes to death. #Ladyhorror. #Girlscares. #Femmethrills. Can’t we just do solid horror? What happened to the creative, envelope-pushing-yet-still-progressive themes in Teeth (directed by a dude, no less)? Or what about the idea that a horror film doesn’t have to be dripping with feminist refrains in order to be successfully directed by a woman? American Psycho, anyone?
I thought the whole point was to make everyone realize that we offer so much more than a narrow band of overbearing anxieties that “only a mother would understand.” Could we not have had a story about a young woman traveling the world alone, coming across some creepy characters while visiting an ancient temple? Perhaps a protagonist who herself is a ghostly little girl? What about an old woman in a nursing home whose roommate seems a bit off and wanders away each night? Come on, I can get more creative in my sleep and still pass the Bechdel test.
I shudder to think what it says about the future of frightening female filmmaking that my favorite story in this compilation hits the spot only because I want to live vicariously through the protagonist, turn into a demon, and devour everyone on screen.
SpecialK Verdict: Horroristas: You know what? See this film, but only because I want you to be as angry about it as I am. Let it be your horrorspiration. Then get creative, and get behind the camera. We can do so much better than this.
XX opened February 17.
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