Anthology films, by their nature, are uneven, and so inherently disreputable. But when they work, they’re like a gift to viewers who really don’t want to sit through a 3 hour Marvel movie only to discover it’s also kind of uneven. And sometimes, the short formats elevate the material, as in XX.
I have raged on and on about how movies are too fast and too long for a while now, so I won’t belabor the point. But it still warms my cold heart to watch a handful of efficient, economically told scare-stories. Bonus points for XX, which enlists only female directors, so absurdly underrepresented in the genre.
Gathering visions from Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama, Annie Clark (aka St. Vincent), and Jovanka Vuckovic, and tying the loose threads together with an animatronic doll in place of the Crypt Keeper, XX is most definitely the lurking sort of creeper, rather than the shouty guy. The individual films — an existential horror, a Weekend At Bernies by way of domestic David Lynch, a visceral return of the repressed, and a Rosemary’s Baby update, respectively — privilege silence and ill-ease over gore, and the domestic over the isolated scream queen. It’s a welcome reprieve.
The films themselves are too short and punchy to risk spoiling. Better to just watch.
The first and last entries are the strongest, which seems almost a maxim for horror anthologies. But there is a particular kind of arthouse nuttery that animates each entry and ties them together, so the whole thing can be viewed as a unit.
I’ve noticed recent detractors from what we’re terming “A24 horror” — that is, thoughtful and slower-paced genre efforts. Those detractors might not dig what’s on offer here. XX is absolutely more interested in mood than viscera. So much the better (and if you want viscera, Shudder has you covered in the first place).
But for anyone looking for some Twilight Zone-esque chills, XX is the spot. It’s like the adult version of the book you tossed from your bed as a kid in the night, looked over your shoulder twice, and then went to retrieve, so you could see how the story ended. It’s a set of scary stories to tell in the dark.
(Streaming on Netflix)
Bryan Yuzna‘s Society was released to no great fanfare in 1989, but its reputation has been rising ever since.
As it turns out, this goofball satire of patrician society that ends up devouring its own face might be the most appropriate coda to the 80s imaginable. The notion of feeding on the lower classes has never been so literal, or so damp.
(Streaming on Shudder)
The Bigamist / The Hitch-Hiker / The Smiling Madame Beudet / The Seashell and the Clergyman
(All streaming on Open Culture)
Park Chan-Wook’s trilogy of cruelty and comeuppance isn’t for everyone, but, for those in its wheelhouse, it’s more or less without peer. Nihilistic? Sure! But clear-eyed and brutal in the way things unfold.
Don’t ever expect to “get away with it.” There’s no getting away.
I think Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance is the best of the bunch. Watch all three and tell me why I’m wrong.
(Streaming on FilmStruck)
Ok, that’s all too intense? Why not kick back and relax the way Sylvester Stallone, by way of Cannon Films, does — by driving big rigs, teaching a terrible kid how to be a terrible man, and arm-wrestling idiots in Vegas to the hot thrumming of Kenny Loggins and other people who sound remarkably like Kenny Loggins!
Turn that hat backwards in your power move and clear the toughs out of the arcade. Tonight, we go over the top!
(Streaming on Amazon Prime)