Directors: Annie Clark, Jovanka Vuckovic, Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama, Sofia Carrillo
Stars: Melanie Lynskey, Natalie Brown
3 (out of 5) Globes
The knives come out whenever a musician turns filmmaker. Oh, has Madonna directed multiple movies? But it’s different when that musician is St. Vincent. The prospect of the genre-blender and cool weirdo sidestepping into another medium isn’t hubristic; it’s exciting. What craziness could the artist who bleached her hair white and channeled Alejandro Jodorowsky for her cover art conjure up?
That she’s taking baby steps helps, too. Called “The Birthday Party” — credited to her real name, Annie Clark, and co-directed with Roxanne Benjamin — it runs only 15 minutes and is slipped into the anthology horror film “XX.” Clark’s short isn’t a spooker or even a shocker so much as a sick joke: The great Melanie Lynskey plays a real housewife who finds that her husband has accidentally overdosed on pills, hours before their daughter’s soiree. Her slapstick attempts to hide the corpse culminate in a slow-motion punchline, though the real payoff is the even darker, funnier text epilogue. In short, it’s very St. Vincent.
It’s great having a voice like Clark’s noodling about the horror genre. As it happens, that’s “XX”’s m.o.: It wrangles up voices you rarely, if ever, see in the genre, namely female filmmakers. That said, their four shorts — plus Svankmajerian animated interstitials by Sofia Carrillo — aren’t boxed in by gender issues. Three revolve around mothers, and the fourth features a woman turned into a ravenous beastie. But the real purpose is to show how silly it is that anyone would find it strange that a woman could dabble in horror — the same people who treat the latest Kathryn Bigelow action film as though she’d performed some fantastical magic trick.
At base, “xx” is 80 minutes of solid, creative horror short filmmaking. Each of the directors know the value of pacing and camera placement, and of the genre’s capacity to explore transgressive or just plain insightful ideas. That may seem like a low bar, but it’s amazing how few horror-meisters can leap that hurdle. Besides, “XX” has a better batting average than other anthology franchises, like “V/H/S” and “The ABCs of Death.”
Only “Don’t Fall” — which finds Roxanne Benjamin going solo, and concerns four hikers who succumb to a far-flung demon — is a bit of a letdown, in that it turns into a rote slasherfest that tears up both bodies and any potentially rich ideas. Still, it makes fine use of cinemascope landscapes and, as in the films of Ti West or Karyn Kusama's "The Invitation," it’s always fun watching a laidback indie vibe that’s bound to be destroyed by something sinister. Speaking of Kusama, she's here, too, with the not-quite-as-good "Her Only Living Son": a slow-burner that soon reveals itself to be a clever sequel-of-sorts to a horror classic, which we won’t reveal.
The best episode isn’t the one by St. Vincent, though. It’s “The Box,” from Jovanka Vuckovic, which nicks an idea from Radiohead’s video for “Just”: A kid innocently glimpses into a stranger’s big, red gift box. We never see what lurks inside, but whatever it is convinces him he should stop eating entirely. This blossoms into both a darkly comic mindf— and an unsettling look at social ostracization inside the family unit — how we can made to feel like outsiders even inside a small, biologically-determined clique. It ultimately doesn’t matter who contributed to “XX”; the important thing is they’re all winners, which makes the case for diversity through action.