Hello, my name is Judith! Welcome to my blog, ReadandReview. This is a film review, instead of a book review, for a change!
This is the second review in a series, talking about the anthology horror film XX.
What is XX?
XX contains four horror shorts, each directed by four female directors. Each short presents four different stories about four different female characters.
I wrote about the first of these – The Box – yesterday. You can read this review here:
The Birthday Party
The Birthday Party is the second short in the collection, written by Roxanne Benjamin and Annie Clark, and directed by Annie Clark.
The story follows Mary, who is trying to arrange and host a birthday party for her daughter Lucy. However, when she finds her husband David’s dead body in his home office, she spends the time before the party attempting to hide his body, keeping it a secret both from Lucy, and the maid Carla.
Firstly, this entire premise – trying to hide a dead body when you’re innocent of any foul-play – is utterly ridiculous, but I’m prepared to overlook this.
What I Liked
This short had a clearer narrative structure than The Box so it was easier to watch its beginning, middle and end unfold.
I particularly liked the ending – the use of slow motion, and accompanying music with its slow, loud beats and the echoes of children’s laughter in the background; it created tension and highlighted just how sinister a party it really was. The ending of The Birthday Party is also effective; it cuts to black after the “big reveal”, allowing for a few seconds of characters’ reaction shots but nothing more.
Furthermore, the use of some visual and audible jumpscares gave The Birthday Party that slightly unnerving tone – a tone which was translated through to the costumes. The panda suit was incredibly creepy, reminding me of the horror video game series Five Nights at Freddy’s. Furthermore, Carla’s pristine, cropped bob and black clothes made her look incredibly foreboding, contrasting powerfully with Mary’s flustered personality, ruffled bed hair and bright nightdress.
However, appearances can be deceiving.
What I Disliked
The character of Carla (played by Sheila Vand) never amounted to anything. She was presented as antagonistic – around each corner as a jumpscare, dressed entirely in black. My mind instantly imagined theories – maybe she’s in the house for an ominous reason – to kidnap Lucy, or be revealed as the culprit for David’s murder, or to attack Mary in some way?
No Carla contributed nothing overall to the plot except a few jumpscares by appearing suddenly. This was incredibly disappointing, making Carla a redundant character.
It makes you sit back and think: ‘What’s the point?’
A lack of satisfying characterisation is a theme across both shorts so far. Mary (played by Melanie Lynskey) also lacks any emotional response to stumbling across her dead husband, which was just utterly bizarre. Her severe anxiety is also hinted at but ultimately feels like throwaway part of her character.
Despite the traumatic party, the tone is oddly comical – exaggerated by a bright colour palette and huge open windows and layout; a far cry from the dark and gloomy household of The Box.
Zacharek describes the film as having a ‘wry, comic charge’. Whilst I can see the case for this – Mary couldn’t hide David’s body for more than 5 minutes without a nosey neighbour knocking at the door or her having to deal with Lucy, who would wet herself for no reason whatsoever – this “comedy” felt jarring with the other elements in the film. (Time Magazine)
Speaking of Lucy, I found the children in The Birthday Party particularly frustrating. They say never work with children or animals, and I wish Annie Clark had taken this advice. There were so many scenes of children looking either directly at the camera lens, or looking where they weren’t supposed to, destroying the build-up of tension.
The Birthday Party has been described as ‘a pristine, pastel dream, immaculate in its conception, its 1960s-flavoured wigs and dresses, its suburban mirage. Yet, something far more sinister hides within.’ (The Independent)
Whilst I can partially see this, and understand the direction Clark wanted the film to go in, I think The Birthday Party missed the mark.
The premise was ridiculous but interesting, and I enjoyed watching the narrative unfold – especially the ending. However, I think the film has some core issues: a lack of characterisation, some poor acting, and a failure to decide on a tone and genre and commit to it.
XX is available to watch on Netflix.
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Have you read watched this film? What did you think?
This post was last updated in January 2020.