In the changing economics of filmmaking, there are no sure bets, but some bets seem better than others. Anthologies of horror shorts have been around for a while, but the past few years, particularly since the 2012 release of V/H/S, have seen the form take on a new life. It’s not hard to see why: They can be made for a relatively low budget, they provide a great point of entry for up-and-coming filmmakers, and they have a built-in audience of horror fans who want to see where the genre will go next and who will be taking it there. Then there’s this: Even if one installment is terrible, there’s a chance the next one will be amazing.
It’s an inviting format, but it has its limitations when it comes to gender equity, limitations that reflect those of the industry at large. The talent behind the 26 films in 2012’s The ABCs of Death, to choose one example with a lot of entries, is overwhelmingly male. The new anthology XX seeks to correct that, gathering together four new horror shorts directed by women.
Like most horror anthologies, it’s a mix of highs and lows, but the highs make it worth a look. The best segments bookend the film (though the mood owes a lot to the stop-motion animation from Sofia Carrillo that introduces each segment and closes out the movie). Jovanka Vuckovic’s “The Box,” an adaptation of a Jack Ketchum story, opens the film on an appropriately disquieting note. The Strain’s Natalie Brown stars as a suburban mom who meets a man with a beautifully wrapped box while returning from the city on a Christmas shopping trip with her son and daughter. Curious about its contents, the son asks for a peek inside. After getting his wish, he can’t, or won’t, talk about what he’s seen. Instead he cheerfully starts refusing to eat, declining meal after meal and snack after snack until his parents grow alarmed. Then, after some some exchanged whispers few days later, his sister starts to do the same.