February is the month of love, right? Wrong. Get your fear on with these four shorts from horror anthology XX, available on Netflix for chill, or DVD if you’re into that.
Why do I love horror shorts?
The format allows us to get straight into the heart of the matter without the distractions of too much character building (I really don’t care about your yin yang relationship with your mysterious twin Gertrude, I just want to see you scream and lose your mind from being haunted by a little Japanese poltergeist) or any of the other fluff and padding they apply to full length horrors these days. (I’m judging you, endless American remakes)
Featuring stories created by women, XX presents some less-explored recurring themes: motherhood, sisterhood, and the female gaze. The first story, by far my favourite, is called The Box, and is based on the short story by the same name by Jack Ketchum. In this story, the focus is on the mother, an affluent white woman with the perfect little family of boy, girl and husband, who slowly starts to lose them one by one because of a mysterious box her son looks into whilst on the subway one day.
The family share a secret that they keep from her, and her role as mother is first eroded by each member’s continued resistance to eat, and then to include her on the mysterious malady affecting them. In the end she is left alone, without the things and people she used to define herself, desperately searching for the man with the box so that she too, can find her end. It’s haunting, disturbing and a perfect modern existential question: who are we as women, without those we were trained to serve and bring up?
The second story, The Birthday Party, attempts to lighten the mood with the funny but macabre story of a mother desperate to give her little girl the Instagram-worthy, Pinterest-inspired party of her dreams. There is only one problem: a man, implied to be mom’s lover and/or the father of the girl has quietly died whilst at his desk in their home. Hilarity ensues in the most horrible way as the hapless mother tries to cover it up but ends up traumatising the birthday girl and every other child in attendance, for life.
The most visually and atmospherically scary short follows, Don’t Fall, which centres on a sister out on a camping and climbing trip with her brother and some friends. She’s the most sensible and fearful of the group: the first to nope it out of there when the ubiquitous mysterious cave drawings are found; and – [redacted]. Watch and decide yourself what you think.
The whole film is brought full circle with the same theme we first encountered: a box, in the sad and unsettling Her Only Living Son. What to do as a doting and devoted single mother when you begin to suspect something is very wrong with your child? What about when everyone insists it’s not as bad as you’re making it out to be? What about when you find a box in your son’s closet that confirms everything and more? Can a mother’s love change a monster, or does love remain steadfast no matter what her child has become?
MOOD RATING:A solid, if slightly too serious, and limited anthology. I do love the change that the female gaze gives to even that most cliché horror settings, and I definitely will aim to look for more. Hopefully with more storylines outside of sad mothers and desperate image-focused women. But hey, baby steps are how we all began.
Delight, AKA Zizi Guru, is a fan of films that go bump in the night and of knowing things for no reason. Find her snarking on Twitter @Izeze