As I’ve mentioned out the ass, I think anthology horror is pretty fucking great. So, needless to say, when I saw XX pop up on my Nutflix recommendations I got pretty damned stoked. Four scary stories from female POVs? You don’t fucking say. And man, what a clever title. But unfortunately, my excitement got the wind knocked out of her pretty much from the get-go. (You can also check out the Drunk in a Graveyard podcast episode #16: Take Your Y Chromosome and Get The Hell Out for the rest of the crew’s thoughts on XX).
So the first short starts and I can’t help but roll my eyes with the opening line “it’s not easy spending time in the city with two kids at Christmas time.” Ugh, so this is going to be the horror equivalent of those moms making parody songs about the perils of having to wash dishes when all you want to do is take a pinot grigio bath. And just some preemptive self-defense — I know being a mom is challenging but important and blah, blah, blah, but it’s just sort of alienating that motherhood turns out to be the central theme in three out of the four shorts, especially since it’s pandering to a very specific brand of it that only a fraction of women can relate to. Optimistically speaking, it could mean that the film’s trying to invoke the True Horrors addressed by second wave feminism, but I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel that overly-intentional. But, more on that to come.
The ma and her young son and daughter are on the train back to the suburbs and there’s this weird old dude carrying a box–a presumed holiday gift–and the boy asks what’s inside. The mom tells him to stfu and stop being a little shit but the dude is like naw homie, have you a look. The boy peaks in, but only he can see what the box contains. Cut to the very seasonally appropriate dinner of chicken and corn on the cob, lil dude doesn’t want to touch his food, which is apparently pretty damn uncharacteristic, but the parents are like fuck it, go play with your Leggos or watch your PornHub or whatever it is kids born after 2000 do. My fear that this is going to be a horror movie based on the agony of your kids not wanting to eat their dinner deepens. Surely, the symbolism must run deeper, right? Spoiler — even after three watches, my jury remains hung.
The pattern continues as Homefry continues to refuse his meals, which grow danker and danker with each passing day. Corn cobs turn into meat balls and then into chicken wings (I’m one of the few vegans who can give credit where credit is due). Daddy Derek starts to get real triggered about the matter but Remy Ma keeps blowing the issue off. Eventually she agrees to take him to the hospital, where he receives outpatient for a presumed eating disorder because I guess Netflix hasn’t cashed in on anorexia enough this month. One night, the boy confides in his sister about what what he saw that day on the train, but not to the disclosure of the audience. Then waddyaknow, sissy stops eating. The duo eventually gets dad woke, too, and then the mom has a really weird maybe-nightmare (the scene transitions get muddled) where she’s being laid out on the kitchen table and the other three are chowing down on her. Pretty soon, it’s Christmas Day and they’re all skin and bones. The mom begs the boy to tell her what he saw in the box that day, but he’s just like idk lol.
The short eventually abruptly ends with the mom talking about how her son died from starvation in January, and the her daughter and husband, that February, so now she spends her days on the train looking for box man to try to figure out what in the fuck just happened. I’m no doctor, but man, that seems like a pretty quick turnaround for hunger, especially when there’s active medical intervention being shown. But beyond that, “The Box” leaves something to be desired, and not because it’s never revealed what was really inside. Rather, it just seems to be working with a symbol indebted to viewer projection and the assumption that the viewer is a mom with not a lot on her plate besides her own mothering which IS REALLY FUCKING LAZY. Insecurity about infertility? Sure. Guilt about carrying on while your kids are struggling? Why not. Stress about orchestrating the family holidays? Let’s do it. I hear they’re making that last one into a major motion pic-cha. Maybe I’m being a bit cold-hearted, but it’s a bit disappointing to have a film marketed to women that doesn’t resonate with me, a woman, at all. Rather, I feel out of the loop.
Fortunately, the tides turn with the next and my most favorite short, “The Birthday Party.” There are sweet dystopic 50’s vibes and wardrobe suitable for killing your third husband. The two central characters are revealed to be one-in-the-same — a messy black-haired wife and the smooth black-haired housekeeper/nanny, presumed to be her younger counterpart. The women speculate on the whereabouts of Daddy and they do that awkward little trying-to-get-around-you dance as they both make moves to set up for the daughter’s birthday party, implying that there’s some D being passed around, or at least a tense threat of it. Ma goes into daddy’s office to find him turned around in his chair and begins prattling on to him about something, but I’m too distracted by what the “Rock Zombie” poster on the wall behind her entails to pay it much mind. Then fuck, she realizes he’s actually dead from an apparent drug overdose/possible suicide, just in time for her daughter to come knocking at the door.
Ma’s able to keep homeboy hidden and actually abandons the whole scene to help her daughter change into a different costume for her party because she had a piss attack on her original one. From creepy flying nun-looking getup to a sheet ghost, there’s some subtle foreshadowing of more hiding to come. I think it’s also worth noting that the daughter is black while her parents are both v white. More preemptive self-defense, I have no issues with this fact, but the casting choice feels pretty intentional. It seems like a nod to the Angelina Jolie “trend” of adopting kids from all over the world, which slid down the hill of pure intentions to that episode of the Kardashians where Kim wanted to adopt a random little girl she found in Thailand like she was a Shih Tzu from the Calabasas PetSmart. More metaphorically speaking, it could suggest that she’s going to take what she learned from watching the shit-show that is her parents and make a conscious decision to live a contrasting life. Either way, it’s an effective way of challenging the intent behind pretty covers.
Ma goes on to get two very different knocks at the door. The first is another Stepford Wife begging for an invite to the big turn-up–despite her own children being unable to attend–since the last kids’ bday party in the hood was too lit to not be seen at. After some pants shitting, ma gets her the fuck out of the door, just to open it again to find some dude in a panda suit sent to sing her daughter a special bday tune. Knowing that she has to act fast if she wants the show to go on, she buys the suit off of him and puts it on Daddy McFlops, who she’s able to Weekend at Bernie for the majority of the party. That is, until the Courtney Stodden nanny accidentally bumps into him, causing him to slump into the cake, essentially blowing the cover. I mean thematically there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking, but it’s at least cleverly conveyed, like a spooky scary Revolutionary Road. What I can also appreciate is that this short is more likely to speak to a broader audience. Hell, everyone has secrets, even if they’re not necessary concealed for image’s sake.
Then comes installment number three, and goddamn, this bitch is a snoozer. My biggest issue is that it had trouble holding my attention, which, yano, is sort of a pretty monumental deal breaker. It took me three tries just now to go back and get the title because I kept zoning out within seconds of hitting play. To be fair, I’m sure it’s difficult to film in a camp setting since it’s visually pretty damn monochromatic. However, this challenge can be overcome by providing depth through emotional dialogue, which “Don’t Fall” is pretty devoid of. Buzzwords like “glamping” are thrown around a foursome of 20-something shits blundering through an out-of-element adventure vacation BECAUSE THAT’S NOT A HORROR CLICHE (also please note that re-envisioning classic horror themes is different from rehashing horror clichés). It’s clear that only the blunt tokin Kurt Cobain wanted to go to stroke his Chris McCandless fantasies while the rest of them would have preferred the Sandals resort. But it’s 2k17 and there’s aesthetic at stake, so abracadabra, they’re in some mystical desert hills. The only parts I really enjoy are the subtle missteps when speaking about the natives who used to inhabit the hills, highlighting the cringiness of when knowledge of other cultures runs only as deep as feather headdresses at Coachella.
But goddamnit, the rest is so stupid. One of the two chicks either looks into some magical light or gets bit by some kind of ancient creature or something (idk, can’t pay attention) and before you know it she turns into Wolf Woman and returns to the the ornately-decorated hippy bus where they’re staying (I always bring my string lights wherever I go, too) and starts killing off the two dudes. Eventually she starts chasing after the other chick who I think she’s supposed to be dating to make it edgy. Homegirl falls off the cliff while she’s running BECAUSE IT’S CALLED DON’T FALL *primal Spongebob bellows.* She’s too ow to get back up, so of course, she-wolf-out-of-the-closet goes in to make her move. Woman goes back to her roots to reclaim what’s hers! It’s like that weird brand of pop music feminism mixed with delusions of the men’s rights movement. It’s a shame, too, because this is the one installment that attempts to explore the un-momed experience, but it doesn’t speak to too much. If anything, it paints young women in not the most flattering light.
Finally, we have “Her Only Living Son,” which, like “The Box,” lost me due to my inability to tap into its symbolism. The opening scene is of a priest giving a pregnant woman money and wishing her Godspeed, easily suggesting that there’s going to be an abortion that plays some kind of central role in the plot. But confusingly, there’s not and it doesn’t. Also worth mentioning is the fact that the priest pulls the high school play mistake (thanks YMS for that description) of performing a line that’s supposed to be getting cut off by ceasing talking before the other character can even interrupt him. Off to a great start, we are. Anyway, there’s an ~*18 years later*~ and this hoe still got a son. So I guess she didn’t abort him? Did it not work? Or did it and then got pregnant again right away? W a t ’s h a p p e n i n g. The uncertainty continues one morning when they’re making breakfast and he starts licking a drop of blood that fell out of an egg shell along with the yoke. First, being a vegan that also calls bullshit when bullshit is due, eggs are fucking gross. Second, where the fuck is this going?
Apparently, it’s to the ~other~ horror warhorse of giving birth to some type of deal-with-the-devil spawn. From Rosemary’s Baby to fucking Paranormal Activity, it’s a gift that doesn’t have much to give, but keeps on arriving under the tree nevertheless. Homeboy starts being a little shit but his mom is kind of an annoying Jesus freak who apparently kept him from his dad but it might be okay because his dad is maybe Satan but it’s not really clear so it’s really hard to feel too bad about any of it. As the days move closer to his 18th birthday, he starts acting out more and more, even ripping his classmate’s fingernails out just for the lawlz, which leads us to the best part of the film — ma finds them in a shoebox in his bedroom and to her horror and mine, they’re motherfucking French tip press-ons. The literally sprinkled fake blood on some Kiss everlasting nails and called them props. A fucking plus.
So eventually he turns into a full blown hooved wolf Satan thing and ma holds him really tight in the middle of the kitchen, yelling about how he’ll always be her little boy. In the spirit of bad movies, she goes on to word salad all of the secrets hidden in the plot thus far, such as how they’ve been on the run from weirdos who want to use his powers or something, idk. It’s dumb. Again, it’s wrapped up in more projected mom symbolism. Not that moms don’t deserve horror, too, but just indulging their insecurities isn’t really a good way to really grab and keep a certain demographic. I think we’re all a little better than that.
But hey, as far as I know, XX is the first of its kind. I appreciate what’s attempting to be done, but better luck next time.