This is the third 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 second of these – The Birthday Party – yesterday. You can read this review here:
Don’t Fall hits closest to the mark as an independent paranormal horror film. It is the third short in the collection, written and directed by Roxanne Benjamin.
Lemire agrees, writing that it is ‘the most traditional, straight-up horror film of the series’. However, she also argues it is the weakest link in the chain of the four shorts. (Roger Ebert, Reviews)
Don’t Fall is about four friends on an expedition in the desert. One of them, Gretchen (Breeda Wool) stumbles across an ancient cave painting whilst exploring the cliffs that appears to be denoting an evil spirit. The group camp out for the night, and Gretchen is attacked and possessed by a creature. One by one, this “Gretchen Monster” attacks the other three friends.
What I Liked
Surprisingly, what I liked most about Don’t Fall was its overuse of horror clichés and stereotypes. It was a refreshing difference to the oddities of The Box and The Birthday Party. Although, had this been a feature-length production, these clichés would have worked against, rather than for, the film.
In an interview, Benjamin said: ‘I wanted to make it very much like ‘we are in a horror movie’ from the second it opened.’ (Cryptic Rock Magazine)
I liked the establishment of tone early on in the short with the use of music; the horror score was good throughout and the transitions from light to darkness alert the audience that they’re clearly watching a horror film; something, I think, that was more difficult to establish in The Box and The Birthday Party.
What I Disliked
However, whilst the group of friends are picked off one by one in true Cabin In The Woods fashion – an admittedly exciting premise that has some decent scares – because of a complete lack of characterisation (again) the audience are given no reason to care. The group’s fate is virtually insignificant; we don’t know or care why the evil spirit chose to attack them, nor do we find out anything about this spirit at all.
This is why Lemire wrote that this was the weakest of the four shorts, arguing: ‘we never get to know the characters enough to care about their fates’. (Roger Ebert, Reviews)
Ultimately, I think this reveals the issue of pairing the short film format with a long cast list.
There are plenty of independent short films on YouTube that are both enjoyable and successful, because they keep their narrative streamlined and focused on a single character, or minimal characters. Therefore, after 15 minutes, the audience feel as though they’ve had a reasonable glimpse into the character’s life, experiences, and personality. However, in films such as Don’t Fall, the addition of lots of characters, paired with the time limitations of a short film make it incredibly difficult to develop anyone’s characters in any real depth.
However, Zacharek praises the brevity of Don’t Fall, arguing that it is a ‘solid example of film-making economy’. (Time Magazine) Speaking of economy, the limited special effects budget was clear when it came to the “big reveal” of the monster, although credit must be given for Benjamin’s attempt.
Overall, the effect of Don’t Fall is one of a small scale paranormal horror that could definitely be improved but, left as is, is reasonably entertaining.
XX is available to watch on Netflix.