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Guest blog – XX marks the future

Hello my good fiends, to mark the passing of Samhain and the beginning of winter, I am bringing you only the second ‘guest’ post in this blogs brief history. A few words of introduction, apart from being a dear friend of mine (one who I shall be having for dinner soon) Mr David William Hall was my editor at the late and highly lamented Verite Magazine (all issues archived online here). Along with Toby Weidmann editor of Official Walking Dead Magazine, I credit David’s gossamer editorial touch, critical insight, and encouragement for making my writing at least passably readable.

Obviously the views and opinions that follow are the author’s own, but they appear with the complete endorsement of this blog, with the caveat that I liked the Annie Clark segment of XX, and still think Rosemary’s Baby is a classic horror film.

XX marks the future

I’ve stayed away from horror anthology films ever since I saw The ABCs of Death (2012) which made me hate a) short horror films, and b) letters.

However, last night I saw something at Upstairs at the Ritzy in Brixton which changed that: XX, an anthology horror made by four women directors that had a 3 out of 4 hit rate.

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XX directors Roxanne Benjamin, Annie Clark, Jovanka Vuckovic and animator Sofia Carillo.

Now, I’ve been going to (horror and non-horror) festivals for decades. I’ve even tried my hand at making a short film (spoiler alert – all the best things about it were down to other people).* It’s very hard to make really good movies. But the truth is, aside from a few exceptions, we’ve allowed an awful lot of mundane guff to be celebrated as great horror over the last two decades. We’ve canonised mediocre talent. Mostly in the form of bro nonsense; films that are craven (muha) in their slavish adherence to past masters, and given a free ride for all kinds of ridiculous reasons. Woefully uninteresting narratives, largely indifferent to the real world (which let’s face it, is an unending newsreel of hot garbage right now).

XX is exhilarating. It’s a buzz. And best of all I was properly freaked out a good couple of times. As were the audience, who gasped in all the right places and were scared throughout. These women are not new or up and coming talents. They are all active in the industry but, frustratingly, still under the radar.

This is the future. Let’s break the stranglehold. Tonight’s event was programmed by women too, which is a whole other story. Studios, take some of that horror bro fanboy dough and back these talents. This goes for all genres obviously. The hit rate won’t be perfect but I’ll wager the product will almost certainly be more interesting than the sorry swill that’s been served up and sold as caviar for decades.

So the film itself. The Box (Jovanka Vuckovic) is 100 per cent creepy Twilight Zone goodness. It’s an excellent short film and a great scene setter.

I’ve heard lots of sniffiness about the third one Don’t Fall (Roxanne Benjamin). Well it played gangbusters with the crowd. It’s the most conventional but it rocked for me. Perfectly timed scares.

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Karyn Kusama, director of XX segment ‘Her Only Living Son’

The fourth, Her Only Living Son, is directed by Karyn Kusama (Jennifer’s Body, The Invitation) and is basically better than Rosemary’s Baby – which is overrated and directed by a sex pest.

The second, The Birthday Party, is directed by Annie Clark and, although she just dropped my favourite album of the year, I wasn’t sold. It does have the great Melanie Lynskey but is basically Pitchfork remaking The Trouble with Harry. It takes the energy out of the film. That said, it was one of the hits with the young crowd and programmers so what the fuck do I know?

There is also a wraparound with some good creepy Švankmajer style stop-motion work from animator Sofia Carrillo.

Takeaway? Keep flooding the industry with women filmmakers, writers, programmers and critics.

Here’s a postscript to underline the mode of thinking that has poisoned the industry and led to so much detritus being celebrated. I once witnessed an unnamed filmmaker (wholly representative of his ilk) introduce himself to my friend at a festival by saying (before even asking her name or what she did) if she knew so much about giallo then “who directed” (insert name of obscure movie)? Whatever, mate. While he’d been wanking into limited edition DVD slipcases she was out killing it in the industry. Like I say, indicative.

Look, I have no skin in this game. I don’t work in film and over the last year I’ve been more pleased than ever about that. I’m a fan first and foremost. And as a fan I implore those that do work in it (many on here), in acquisitions and development and programming to take a risk on some other perspectives. Let’s be real – who knows and understands the real horrors of 21st century society better than those who are most marginalised within it?

Theres a reason why this and Get Out (most successful genre film of 2017) were two of the best genre films released this year. Audiences do crave and enjoy something fresh.

Give it to them.

Words by David Hall

XX is streaming on Netflix and available on UK DVD from Soda Pictures

  • Editor’s note – This was The Initiation, a segment of the anthology feature Horrorshow presented by Norman J. Warren and screened at London FrightFest in 2008. Also David is being far too hard on its merits.
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