Enveloped in a grey English-country gloom, a large, old house with faded paisley walls sits lifeless. The quiet is broken by the creek of a vintage rocking horse in a nursery before a music box slowly chimes in. Watery, royal blue eyes suddenly snap to life on the wooden face of a doll and an eerie force awakens the abandoned toys strewn about.
This creepy stop-motion animation evolves through the intro, outro and inbetween the four horror shorts that make up XX.
Having just enjoyed its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in January, the all-female anthology is a polished addition to this niche genre. And this XYZ Films production pushes new boundaries, particularly with my favourite, The Birthday Party, which proves to be darkly humorous without a single drop of blood.
Starring Melanie Jayne Lynskey, better known as Rose—the highly manipulative and charming neighbour to the Harpers on Two and a Half Men—this short is simplistic, yet highly stylistic with pops of colour and contrast on an otherwise ordinary set.
Clad in a teal negligee and apricot robe, Lynskey is found in her suburban kitchen putting the final touches on her daughter’s birthday preparations. The morning delivers a quick, but devastating kink she must keep under wraps from the nosey neighbours and gaggle of children that slowly infiltrate her home. And she almost pulls off her weird, impromptu plan. Good thing she’s packing a flask.
While watching it, the heavy baseline sounded familiar, but Shazam offered no suggestions as to what it was. Annie Clark—better known as musician St. Vincent—has decided to try her hand at filmmaking and The Birthday Party is her directorial debut. She also composed her own original score for the short, which stands out and compliments the piece.
The Box, another one of the four shorts, would also classify as a psychological haunt but delivers more of an awkwardly odd side and not a single laugh. The remaining two, Don’t Fall and Her Only Living Son, round out the missing traits of the genre—gore, adrenaline, evil beasts and the dark king, of course.
It’s a nicely balanced collection and is definitely elevated above its B-Grade counterparts. With the popularity of horror films seemingly on the rise with cult clubs and feature screenings, it looks like budgets are rising too—at least they have for this production.
If you’re looking for a way to put a spark into a cold night, XX will hit the spot.
DEDfemme presents: XX
Mar., 10 (9 pm)
Metro Cinema, $10