Horror anthologies are all the rage these days. On his blog alone in the past year I have reviewed Southbound and Holidays already. A new film just came out and it too is concerned with telling mini stories of thrill and horror, and just like the ones I mentioned previously, this one has a connecting thread as well. As the title suggests by alluding to human chromosomal makeup, all the writers and directors of this movie, as well as the focus of each segment, are women. Most of the time we associate the auteurs of horror with being male. Names like John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Rob Zombie, George A. Romero, Alfred Hitchcock, and Sam Raimi immediately come to mind. Yet there is a contingent of female directors helming some genre movies, and this film gives them a special showcase. The first half of the film is, in my opinion, stronger than the latter half, but it is overall a good and entertaining effort, even if not the most even. Connecting all the movies is an interesting framing device taking elements and symbols of femininity, like the doll pictured above, and twisting it into a grotesque and disturbing image. The film does nothing with this, however, so it just exists as a way to weave the stories together and nothing more. I do like this trend in filmmaking, giving more people a voice. It’s the film’s version of a short story collection by different authors, and I don’t hate it one bit.
That said, there are four stories, each about twenty minutes in length, so let’s get to them.
Writer & Director: Jovanka Vuckovic
Cinematographer: Ian Anderson
I loved this one. A mother and her two children are on the subway and the son is seated next to a man with a glass eye holding a big red shiny present. Innocently the boy asks the man what is inside, and when shown the boy grows pale. Back at home everything seems normal and the carefree son just states he’s not very hungry. The boy’s unwillingness to eat goes on for days, alarming the family members. Eventually the daughter and husband become infected by the loss of appetite as well, leaving the mother on the outside. The story seems to tackle the sometimes impossible need for a woman to keep her family safe from harm, and her utter helplessness when things go awry. The added image of people eating, even casually, in most scenes was brilliant. The best of the bunch by far.
THE BIRTHDAY PARTY
Director: Annie Clark
Writers: Annie Clark & Roxanne Benjamin
Cinematographer: Tarin Anderson
Cast: Melanie Lynskey
Yes, the director and cowriter of this segment is non other than musician St. Vincent, credited here by her given name. My runner up for favorite of the bunch. This is more of a pitch black comedy. A story of the lengths a mother will go to in order to ensure a great birthday party for her daughter and a happy memory. The wrench in her plans is the suicide of her husband, who has decided to die on his little girl’s special day. Attempts to cover up and hide his body often go awry and even a panda suit comes to the rescue. An overall strong entry for the film, and a nice break from the glum with something a little more light, even though still on target. Melanie Lynskey as the mom is awesome as always.
Writer & Director: Roxanne Benjamin
Cinematographer: Tarin Anderson
Cast: Angela Trimbur
Benjamin also co-wrote Clark’s segment, and one of her segments was also present in Southbound, so she is the veteran here of the horror anthology movement. In her story, some hikers go on a mountain, find some weird cave paintings, and a monster appears. This one is quite short and definitely a WTF hipster segment, and tonally just doesn’t work. The acting is subpar, the events rushed, it just didn’t work for me. Add in the cliche allusion to tribal curses that hurt unsuspecting innocent white people and it becomes even a little culturally tone-deaf. The effects are also a bit laughable.
HER ONLY LIVING SON
Writer & Director: Karyn Kusama
Cinematographer: Patrick Cady
The most experienced director of the bunch. Kusama has directed the fantastic Girlfight and The Invitation. People may also remember her for Æon Flux and Jennifer’s Body. This segment, about a mother and her troubling son on the eve of his eighteenth birthday, is well directed and acted. My one issue with it was that it seemed a little too derivative of The Omen and Rosemary’s Baby for my tastes, and thus didn’t feel as fresh or frightening by consequence. It’s hard to tell a spawn of satan story in a new way, and clearly it proved too difficult for Kusama as well, the end result being fine but not exactly inspiring. It was still very good to look at and impressively performed – just a little tired.