Still taken from film.
This is the fourth 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 third of these – Don’t Fall – yesterday. You can read this review here:
Her Only Living Son
Her Only Living Son is the final short in the series, written and directed by Karyn Kusama.
Cora (Christina Kirk) is a single mother, and her rebellious son Andy (Kyle Allen) is about to turn 18. However, the day before his birthday, she is called into school to discuss an incident in which Andy tore off a classmate’s fingernails. Andy becomes increasingly violent and Cora becomes increasingly afraid of him. The tension builds, as it is strongly hinted that Andy is not entirely human, but may in fact be the son of Satan.
What I Liked
Zacharek writes, it ‘deftly on the subterranean fears that often come with motherhood’, introducing the theme of motherhood (just as in The Box) but approaching it differently. (Time Magazine) This may remind horror-film fans of other works like Rosemary’s Baby or The Omen, in which a child Antichrist is the central antagonist.
In a similar manner to Don’t Fall, the story felt more like a horror than The Box or The Birthday Party. The score and occasional gore (nice rhyme) added to this.
However, whilst the premise of Her Only Living Son is suitably “horror” in nature, by introducing concepts like Satan and the Antichrist, the execution of this was poor.
What I Disliked
Cora was a weak character, snivelling and sad – even before her son transforms into something abhuman.
In a similar manner to The Box, Cora’s behaviour as a mother does not empower women, but displays women as once again under the influence of the men in their lives; even the mailman seems to have more agency than Cora. Normally, gender roles in film wouldn’t bother me a great deal, but given that Her Only Living Son is directed by a woman, to create more presence of female film directors and better female representation in film, I thought the female characters would reflect this. Representation was an issue in other ways too.
When Andy’s “fingernail incident” was discussed at school, the parent of the victim, a black woman, is present. She is talked down to by both the headmistress (a white woman) as well as the other school staff (white men) and told she is the problem for speaking out against Andy’s behaviour.
Whilst this scene makes no sense anyway, I also realised that this mother (Lisa Renee Pitts) in Her Only Living Son was the only prominent person of colour since Lucy (Sanai Victoria) in The Birthday Party. I’m not going to start accusations of “racism”, but I found it incredibly interesting that a project specifically designed to improve representation in film seemed to favour casting white men and white women – women who then became subservient to those men within the film.
The flashbacks at the beginning felt disjointed from the rest of the narrative – they didn’t provide enough information for what was happening to be understandable. Furthermore, the entire use of the flashback is undercut when Cora relays what happens via dialogue later in the film. I also found the ending dissatisfying because it wasn’t particularly clear as to what happened, and why it happened.
Was Andy exorcised? Was he punished by Satan? Why did Cora suffer too?
These are the sorts of questions it raised, but not in an enjoyable “cliffhanger” way, but in an “unfinished story” way.
Overall, despite its links to the supernatural and paranormal genres of horror, Her Only Living Son is the short I enjoyed the least.
Having watched and reviewed all four shorts in XX, here are my final comments:
- Was each film incredibly well-made?
No; there were some flaws in production and things that could have been bettered.
- Was each film explicitly “horror” in nature?
No; sometimes the genre wasn’t clear cut, and was a mix of different elements.
- Was the story of each film entirely perfect?
No; character development and storytelling technique were the two things I found most lacking across all four shorts.
My favourite film was probably The Box because I liked its story premise best, and I liked being able to interpret it.
- Was the message of each short explicitly clear?
No; not always.
- Were the films particularly feminist in either style or content?
No; I didn’t think so and at times representation was an issue.
I have never spent such length discussing films before – albeit whether that’s an indication of XX being so good and thought-provoking or so bad it needs condemning I don’t know.
XX has been described as a ‘mixed bag’, which I feel is an apt description.
If you’re looking for some relatively light horror this Halloween, you could always give XX a go. If however, you prefer well-made horror films with … actual horror, I recommend you steer clear of XX.
XX is available to watch on Netflix.
Thank you for reading this series on XX; I had great enjoyment in both watching each short, and writing each review.