Sunday, February 19, 2017

Women in Horror: XX

 XX is a horror anthology directed exclusively by women with 4 short films plus a connecting short interspersed between them.

* The Box, directed by Jovanka Vuckovic and based on a short story by Jack Ketchum

Susan and her husband Robert have an idyllic life and wonderful children Danny and Jenny. Susan and her children ride the train home after a day of ice skating, hot chocolate, and licorice. They happen to sit next to a man with a shiny red present that piques Danny's curiosity and he asks about its content. The man shows him and he's never the same after that. Danny refuses to eat at all and goes days without eating. Slowly, the condition passes to Jenny and then Robert, until Susan is the only one unaffected in her starving family.

The Box is my favorite segment because of its tense and uneasy atmosphere. When Danny and the others get sick, they simply refuse food. No tantrums or any emotion, just a simple statement of "I'm not hungry." Susan is at a loss for what to do. After 5 days, they take Danny to the hospital. Both men in the short, the doctor and Robert, seem to blame Susan for the condition and make pointed comments. The doctor demands why they didn't come sooner and Robert silently blames Susan as if it was her sole decision to wait. Later, Robert doesn't understand how Susan can eat while her children starve. Susan doesn't have an explosive reaction like Robert does when he screams at his son to eat pizza. She's able to take care of herself and keep her emotions in check, but others see it as being emotionally cold and uncaring.

This story illustrates that no matter how hard you work to make your family safe, how perfect your home is, or how good of a parent you are, your family might still be in danger from outside forces. The thing in the box is never identified because it doesn't matter. This unknown object destroys her family anyway. Her anxieties about it go inward instead of outward, resulting in a horrific dream where her family eats her while she smiles. This shows that she would give anything to heal her family, even her life, but nothing helps. The Box is chilling in its content and its lack of firm answers.

My rating: 5/5

* The Birthday Party, written and directed by Annie Clark and co-written by Roxanne Benjamin

Mary is frantically getting ready for her daughter Lucy's birthday party, straightening things and making sure everything is just right. Carla, Lucy's nanny, notices that Mary's husband David came home, but Mary doesn't believe her until she finds his dead body in her study. Now Mary frantically tries to find a place to hide his body while hiding from Carla, Lucy, and random people who come to the house.

Melanie Lysnkey embodies Mary and her anxious need to make everything perfect. Mary is obviously very concerned with appearing perfect and having everything in order, but above all of that, she loves Lucy. Lucy's birthday party must be perfect because it would be incredibly traumatic for her to see her dead father on her birthday. Mary dodges everyone to cover up the body and comes up with the most ridiculous solution. I seriously laughed at length when watching it because of the surreal, darkly hilarious situation and exaggerated reactions of the characters. Behind the humor, Mary truly shows her love for Lucy and David. Appearances mean a lot to her, but she decides to hide the body rather than shower, dress, do her makeup, or further beautify the house. Lucy means more to her than her OCD tendencies or her neverending journey to perfection. She also puts aside her own feelings about the death to keep the day normal for her daughter. Mary is also truly horrified and distraught over her husband's death and even takes the time to give him a tender hug that shows how loving their relationship was. Despite all her efforts, the party doesn't go as she would have liked.

My rating: 4.5/5

* Don't Fall, written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin

Gretchen, her girlfriend Jess, her brother Paul, and her friend Jay go on a hike in a fairly unknown area. While rock climbing, they find ancient paintings on boulders where Gretchen gets stung by a bug or something. That night, Gretchen undergoes a monstrous transformation and brutally attacks her friends and loved ones.

This was my least favorite of the segments because it was the most straight forward and didn't feel like it fit in with the rest of them. However, it was an enjoyable creature feature with a wonderful transformation scene and moments of suspense and gore. One aspect of the horror is unknowingly disturbing ancient evil that will take its revenge. Another aspect is in the human side. Gretchen is often the butt of jokes because of her timid nature and fear of heights and bugs. The others view her as weak and they goodnaturedly (to them) tease her. The monster is symbolic of Gretchen tiring of the teasing and fighting back (of course in an overexaggerated way). Don't Fall is gory fun, but pales in comparison to the rest of the stories.

My rating: 3/5

* Her Only Living Son, written and directed by Karyn Kusama

Cora is a single mother raising her rebellious teenage son Andy in an odd way. They typically move frequently to avoid Andy's father and live their lives in peace. Andy's rebellious ways reach dangerous levels when he nails a squirrel to a wall, tears the fingernails off of a classmate, and comes home covered in blood. Then his father comes to collect him.

Cora through most of the story is a lot like the frazzled mother from The Babadook. She doesn't want to acknowledge that something is deeply wrong with her son or address his abhorrent behavior in any way. Her actions approve of her son's behavior as she covers up evidence and cleans up his gruesome messes. Cora is forced to confront what her son has done at school in a meeting with the principal. This scene is significant in a couple ways. Cora sees her son's violent acts completely for the first time instead of seeing the aftermath. She's understandably horrified. The reaction of the school is to praise Andy and label the attacked girl as overreacting. This moment on one hand shows that there's something deeper going on and on the other hand brings to mind real life moments of white boys getting little to no punishment for acts against girls due to privilege. The fact that the girl is a minority and female means that she's denounced as emotional and unreliable. The whole scene was shocking to watch.

This seems to be similar to the film The Omen, but with Damien all grown up. Followers that worship him start popping up randomly and are sometimes even people who they've known for years. Andy struggles with his inherent evil and his free will to do good. Previously, Cora had tried to protect Andy by withholding vital information from him and it affected him anyway. The ending has their boundaries finally going down and sharing with each other in a beautiful scene. It's a powerful segment about motherhood and the anxiety of raising someone monstrous despite every effort to do the opposite.

My rating: 4/5

The anthology is framed by a stop motion story directed by Sofia Coabout a walking house with doll part features seeking something to make a mechanical girl come to life. It's unnerving and beautiful at the same time and keeps with the overall theme of motherhood. The story is clear even though no words are uttered.

Overall rating: 4/5

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