“The devil gets blamed for a lot of stuff he didn’t have nothing to do with.”


October has fallen again and, once more, the Bureau digs up its ghostly offerings for night-time viewing. We’ll have horrors past and present up for review. Along with the shambling dead and the body snatchers, the horrors lurking behind your neighbor’s white picket fence and friendly facade, and the mysterious agents holding back the hordes of hell, we’ll also examine an SF sequel more-anticipated than any recent Star Wars chapter. Our full list appears at the end of this review.

Without a doubt, the most-discussed horror films of 2017 have been It (reviewed here) and Get Out (which we will examine on Halloween night). However, much fan chatter also centered ’round the horror anthology XX— and that’s where this year’s October Reviews begin.


Title: XX

“The Box”

Director: Jovanka Vuckovic
Writers: Jovanka Vuckovic from the story by Jack Ketchum

Natalie Brown as Susan Jacobs
Jonathan Watton as Robert Jacobs
Peter DaCunha as Danny Jacobs
Peyton Kennedy as Jenny Jacobs
Ron Lea as Dr. Weller
Michael Dyson as Man with Box

“The Birthday Party”
Director: Annie Clark
Writers: Roxanne Benjamin and Annie Clark

Melanie Lynskey as Mary
Seth Duhame as David
Sanai Victoria as Lucy
Sheila Vand as Carla
Lindsay Burdge as Madeleine

“Don’t Fall”
Written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin

Casey Adams as Paul
Breeda Wool as Gretchen
Angela Trimbur as Jess
Morgan Krantz as Jay

“Her Only Living Son”
Written and directed by Karyn Kusama

Christina Kirk as Cora
Kyle Allen as Andy
Mike Doyle as Chet
Brenda Wehle as Principal Jenks
Morgan Peter Brown as Mr. Dayton
Lisa Renee Pitts as Kelly Withers
Lisa Costanza as Female Onlooker
Ruben Pla as Male Patron
Curt Cornelius as Dr. Roman

Framing sequences
Written and directed by Sofia Carrillo

Available on Video on Demand.

Premise:

This anthology brings us a haunt of fears written and directed by women:

“The Box”: a family faces slim chances of survival after one of them looks into a mysterious box.

“The Birthday Party, or The Memory Lucy Suppressed From Her Seventh Birthday That Wasn’t Really Her Mom’s Fault (Even Though Her Therapist Says It’s Probably Why She Fears Intimacy)“: A woman’s husband dies on their daughter’s seventh birthday, and mother takes desperate, darkly comical measures so as not to ruin the party.

“Don’t Fall”: Four friends on an expedition into the wilds uncover a creepy cave painting and soon fear the creature it depicts stalks them.

“Her Only Living Son”: Cora fears her son may be the literal spawn of Satan.

The anthology gets framed by nightmarish stop-motion that may stay with some viewers longer than the stories themselves.

High Points:

The sections have been directed competently, and “The Box” creates an unsettling mood, while eschewing jump-scares and other obvious techniques.

“Her Only Living Son” manages to be both the creepiest of the stories…

Low Points:

…but also the silliest, even if its excesses stay entirely in genre.

“The Box” would have been better without the voiceover, though it serves some purpose at the conclusion.

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 “The Box” is the most original; the others take slightly new approaches to material we’ve seen before. Some viewers may roll eyes at the notion of an anthology marketed as being exclusively written and directed by women. The best horror of the last few years, Babadook, was both, and the fact mostly seemed beside the point. Like The Babadook, all of these stories have female protagonists, and three specifically look at the roles and expectations for mothers through the lens of horror. That perspective is something the typical horror film doesn’t have, and it’s not so likely to come from male filmmakers.

Effects: 5/6 The stories use low-key effects thoughtfully, sparingly, and in service of the story. Only “Don’t Fall” overreaches its budget somewhat.

The framing sequences provide glimpses into someone’s nightmares.

Acting: 4/6 The acting varies, but is generally strong. The performances in “Her Only Son” become melodramatic in places, but don’t be too quick to judge.

Production: 4/6

Story: 4/6

Emotional Response: 4/6

Overall: 4/6 The stories (“Don’t Fall” in particular) feel like traditional horror minus the filler, but also with less opportunities for character development and gradual suspense. These problems, to varying degrees, affect all of the stories.

In total, XX receives 27/42


Oct. 7: XX (2017) (JD)
Oct.14: Non-Horror Double Feature:
Blade Runner 2049 (2017) (W. Blaine)
Professor Marston and the Wonder Women (2017) (JD)
Oct.21: Hellsing Ultimate (2006-2012) (Alex)
Oct.28: Hammer Horror Double-feature:
City of the Dead(1960) and The Devil’s Own (1966) (JD)
Oct. 31: Get Out (2017) (Brian)