Women in Horror Month (WiHM) is an international, grassroots initiative, which encourages supporters to learn about and showcase the underrepresented work of women in the horror industries. Whether they are on the screen, behind the scenes, or contributing in their other various artistic ways, it is clear that women love, appreciate, and contribute to the horror genre. Psycho Drive-in is joining in by sharing articles – some classic, some new – celebrating the greatest women in the genre! Just in time for Women in Horror Month comes XX, a horror anthology where every entry is written and directed by women. Which is a thing because it’s the 21st fucking century and this is the first all-female-written-and-directed horror anthology. Ever. Seriously. What the hell? First up is “The Box,” written and directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, followed by “The Birthday Party” by director Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, with a scripting assist by Roxanne Benjamin who directed the next short, “Don’t Fall.” The final piece is written and directed by Karyn Kusama and is entitled “Her Only Living Son.” Each of these short films is framed by a bizarre stop-motion animated sequence about a sentient dollhouse by Sofia Carrillo. Magnet Releasing, the genre arm of Magnolia Pictures, has been on a roll over the past few years, releasing some of the most innovative and interesting horror films, from Let the Right One In to I Saw the Devil, from The Host to Bad Milo, from House of the Devil to The Sacrament from Last Shift to Beyond the Black Rainbow and from V/H/S to The ABCs of Death 1 and 2. Essentially, if the Magnet logo comes up, you can count on getting your money’s worth, and XX is no exception. Jovanka Vuckovic‘s opener, “The Box” is perhaps the most disturbing of the shorts that make up XX, if only for the unsettling premise. It doesn’t hurt that the performers all nail exactly what is needed to craft what is, ultimately, an exercise in existential horror. “The Box” (adapted from the short story by Jack Ketchum) tells the twisted tale of little Danny Jacobs (Peter DaCunha), who, after asking to see what’s in the box to a strange-eyed fellow (Michael Dyson) on the train, decides to never eat again and that dying isn’t a big deal. Danny refuses to talk about why he’s no longer hungry, but when he does whisper his secret to first his sister (Peyton Kennedy) and then his father (Jonathan Watton), the lack of hunger is passed on until only his mother (Natalie Brown) is left to wonder what the fuck is going on. I was expecting this to veer more toward becoming a statement about eating disorders – something more subtle than The ABCs of Death‘s “X is for XXL” – but this is something different. Both the apathy that the characters feel and the ennui in Danny’s voice when he declares indifference to dying were chilling. Natalie Brown’s growing desperation as her family withers away around her is at constant battle with maintaining some sort of control and ultimately drives home a powerful sense of helplessness in the face of existential dread. Between this and The Strain, she can’t catch a break when it comes to parenting. And in the end, there are no answers. This is a just about perfect short film. Vuckovic, a former digital effects artist and former editor-in-chief of Rue Morgue Magazine, is the author of Zombies! An Illustrated History of the Undead and Vuckovic’s Horror Miscellany and has contributed as a genre film expert on the Blade Runner Five Disc Ultimate Collector’s Edition, Zombiemania, Universal’s The Future of Fear and The Vice Guide to Film. She is set to direct her first feature film, Riot Girls in 2017, followed by All My Heroes Are Dead from her own script. The second entry in XX is a dramatic change of pace, as musician Annie Clark (St. Vincent) directs a darkly comic satire of social responsibilities and parenting with “The Birthday Party.” Melanie Lynskey (who I don’t think I’ve seen on film since Peter Jackson’s Heavenly Creatures in 1994) is a mom trying to throw a birthday party for her daughter. The only problem is her husband has died overnight. But that won’t stop Mary from trying to make the day perfect for her emotionally delicate daughter. This one is light-hearted fun – until you get to the end – with more straight-up humor than you’re going to find in any other entry. It is also the most visually striking with its use of color and perspective. This provides a nice contrast with the other pieces and still manages to capture a sense of anxiety with a few heartbreakingly honest moments for what is ultimately the most fun you’re going to have while still feeling awkward and a little paranoid. But the best punchline is the full title, which is only revealed as the short wraps up. St. Vincent, if you don’t already know, has been a solo musician since 2006 after getting her start performing with the Polyphonic Spree and then Sufjan Stevens. She’s artsy and weird and did a collaboration album with David Byrne, so even if you’re not a fan of the Polyphonic Spree or Sufjan Stevens, you have to give her props for working with Byrne. She also fronted Nirvana for a performance of “Lithium” at the band’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction, so there. “The Birthday Party” was produced and co-written by Roxanne Benjamin, who wrote and directed the third short. “Don’t Fall” is the most traditional horror film in the anthology, a creature-feature that wastes very little time getting down to business. If it has any shortcoming, it may be that it’s over too quickly to really allow the sense of dread and horror to build. On the other hand, Benjamin’s dialogue is a joy. The characters are clever and funny right up until they’re screaming for their lives. I won’t go into much detail with this one, as there’s not a lot to it, but “Don’t Fall” is the most energetic and might be the most exciting short included here. It also features a queer couple center-stage without making it all about the fact that there’s a queer couple center-stage. That’s how you do it. Benjamin has worked as a producer on V/H/S 1 and 2, then made her directorial debut with a slow-burn short included in the horror anthology Southbound (which she also produced). I’ve been digging around online but the most news I can come up with for her next project is a tweet that mentions she’s working on a “violent female-protag film” and with any luck, it’s a feature-length kick-ass horror/action film that will make everybody sit up and take notice. The final short in XX is written and directed by Karyn Kusama and is called “Her Only Living Son.” Kusama brings the most impressive filmmaking resume to the anthology, getting her start with Girlfight in 2000 and following that up with Aeon Flux in 2005 and then Jennifer’s Body in 2009. She most recently began garnering massive critical praise for 2015’s The Invitation and has been working in television regularly since 2014, with her next feature, Destroyer, shooting in the fall. “Her Only Living Son” is exceptionally creepy and provides an intriguing twist on the traditional “my kid is the antichrist” story. Spoilers. It’s the third short in the collection to focus on the fears and anxieties of motherhood and in the end is perhaps the least inspiring film in the anthology. But that’s only because any sense of surprise is telegraphed fairly early and the Rosemary’s Baby-style “everybody’s in on the joke” approach undercuts the impending dread. That said, the film is still very effective when it comes to the performance of lead, Christina Kirk. This is a woman who has sacrificed everything for the well-being of her child and refuses to accept the influence of nature over nurture. Andy (Kyle Allen) is a monstrous little bastard, an exaggeration of ordinary teen hostility, but she won’t give up on him. Even if his dad is the fucking devil. As mentioned at the top, each film is framed with bizarre, stop-motion animation by Sofia Carrillo, a Guadalajara-based animator making beautifully haunting shorts over the past twelve years. I’m not going to try to explain it or interpret it beyond saying that it involves a sentient dollhouse and is simply gorgeous. I’d have to watch it a few more times to offer a more intelligent response, but it sets an amazing tone and the skill on display is simply stunning. So yeah. It’s 2017 and we have the first ever horror anthology entirely written and directed by women. According to the 2016 Celluloid Ceiling Report, in “2016, women comprised 17% of all directors, writers, producers, executive producers, editors, and cinematographers working on the top 250 domestic grossing films. This represents a decline of 2 percentage points from last year and is even with the percentage achieved in 1998 (emphasis mine).” Women in horror, which is the fucking entry point genre for filmmakers, fared worse with women accounting for just 11% of roles behind the scenes in 2015. That’s depressing. And is exactly what Women in Horror Month was created to address. So be sure to check out XX and seek out the other works by these creators and all the women we’ve been highlighting this month. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.