(Italy/US - 2017)
(US - 2017)
AMERICAN MARY), Mary Harron (AMERICAN PSYCHO), Karyn Kusama (THE INVITATION), and former Rue Morgue editor Jovanka Vuckovic. By the time the XX was officially underway, Lynch, Harron, and the Soskas dropped out, with Kusama and Vuckovic joined by Roxanne Benjamin (SOUTHBOUND) and Annie Clark, better known as musician St. Vincent, with Mexican stop-motion animator Sofia Carrillo handling the wraparound and the "interstitial" segments between the stories. Oddly enough, it's the least-experienced filmmakers of the bunch who fare best, with Vuckovic's opener "The Box," based on a Jack Ketchum short story about a child's curiosity about the contents of a gift box held by a stranger on a train ultimately sending a family into emotional and physical turmoil as everyone who finds out what's in the box begins starving themselves. Clark's "The Birthday Party," which she co-wrote with Benjamin, is a deadpan farce with Melanie Lynskey as a wife and mom desperately trying to carry on with her seven-year-old daughter's birthday party even though her husband drops dead right before the guests arrive. It's a one-joke story that gets an admittedly huge laugh at the end, but perhaps not big enough to justify the elaborate buildup.
At that point, XX fails to heed its own advice with "Don't Fall," a useless ten-minute trifle from Benjamin with a group of obnoxious campers being pursued by a shape-shifting desert creature. The closer is "Her Only Living Son," and it's quite a disappointment from Kusama, who doesn't keep her INVITATION momentum going. Waitress and single mom Cora (Christina Kirk) is having a hard time dealing with her rebellious son Andy (Kyle Allen) on the eve of his 18th birthday. He's in trouble at school and he's prone to nasty mood swings, but his increasingly violent behavior is justified or outright ignored by those seemingly under his spell, including the overly friendly mailman (Mike Doyle) whose job it's been to "watch over him" all these years. It's bad enough that Kusama's script doesn't even follow its own internal logic, since much is made of Andy's resentment that they've had to move around every few years to avoid "Andy's father," which immediately calls into question how the mailman has watched over them "all these years." But what really makes "Her Only Living Son" collapse in on itself is that it's ultimately nothing more than fan fiction derived from a certain late 1960s supernatural horror classic that's obvious the moment "Andy's father" is mentioned. It's interesting that three of the four stories--and Carrillo's animation, to an extent--deal directly with the lengths a mother will go to protect her family, but Benjamin's story is not only the odd woman out, but it's also a complete waste of time. XX is a good idea, but two of the filmmakers fall asleep on the job: Benjamin torpedoes any momentum this thing had going, and anyone who watches enough horror anthologies knows you have to finish big, but Kusama completely drops the ball and regardless of XX's intent, the result is an underwhelming disappointment. (R, 81 mins)
BEYOND THE GATES
(US - 2016)
William Wilson) that's just not. Vincenzo Salvia's killer synth tune "Outrun with the Dead" gets things going in the right direction as two estranged brothers--elder, uptight Gordon (Graham Skipper) and younger, aimless slacker John (Chase Williamson of JOHN DIES AT THE END)--arrive in town to clean out and close up an old-school video store (played by the legendary L.A. memorabilia mecca Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee) owned by their father, who's been missing for seven months. The brothers clearly don't get along and there's hints of childhood trauma and their dad's heavy drinking, and Gordon's surly unease doesn't let up even with his loving and supportive girlfriend Margot (Brea Grant) in tow. Back in their dad's office, Gordon and John find a VCR/board game called "Beyond the Gates," which includes seizure-inducing strobe lighting as well as a sultry hostess (RE-ANIMATOR's Barbara Crampton) who seems to know of their father's whereabouts. She challenges the brothers and Margot to play the game and find four keys in various unlikely locations in order to save the soul of their dad, who's trapped in some kind of tortured purgatory within the game.