When it comes to proportional representation in studio filmmaking, female directors have a long way to go. Last year, the Centre for the Study of Women in Television and Film reported that women comprised only 7 per cent of directors working on the top 250 highest-grossing studio films in 2016. And when it comes to horror films, that number feels even starker. While directors like Jennifer Kent (The Babadook) and Julia DuCournau (Raw) have made notable in-roads in horror filmmaking, it still feels like horror movies are by-and-large a boy’s club, especially as women try to claw from self-funded indie films into wider studio partnerships.
That’s why films like XX feel so exciting and important, and why I flew like a demon from the subway to the Carlton in Toronto last Friday to catch a sold-out late-night screening. Executive produced by Toronto-based director Jovanka Vuckovic, XX is an anthology film featuring four short segments all directed by women: Roxanne Benjamin, Karyn Kusama, Vuckovic herself, and Annie Clark, who also moonlights as a musician you might have heard of called St. Vincent. Each segment is as disparate as the directors themselves, who bring a variety of interests, intentions and concerns to the table with their films. One of my favourites was Vuckovic’s own segment, “The Box”. Based on a story by the extreme horror writer Jack Ketchum, the film starts with a small boy taking a peek into a stranger’s gift-wrapped box on the subway during Christmastime. His face drops; that evening, he has no appetite and skips a meal, and then another. Without giving too much away, The Box is a quietly canny and engrossing examination of the disconnect that can grow between members of a family.
I also loved Clark’s segment, “The Birthday Party,” partially because I’m biased as a mega-fan, and also because it’s super weird, ridiculous and unnerving. The segment stars Melanie Lynskey as a frazzled mom trying to plan her daughter’s bday. She’s expecting to go it alone, sans Dad for reasons unknown (estrangement, divorce, overwork, etc?) until she spots him sitting in his study, his back facing her. Then the film takes a turn. Shot with a fragmented, dizzy verve and scored with Clark’s own screeching guitars, “The Birthday Party” takes a fairly simple idea and renders it instantly memorable through the vibrancy of its vision and pacing.
While XX can sometimes feel fragmented (truly the nature of all anthology films!) it will leave you fascinated and curious about each director’s oeuvre and hankering for more. You can catch it at Toronto’s Imagine Carlton Cinemas until Feb 23 – it’s also currently available for purchase via iTunes.
Alison Lang is the editor of Broken Pencil.