PLOT: 26 short films from all corners of the globe are strung together by the letters of the alphabet.
REVIEW: As a person with a sincere fondness for horror anthologies, as well as for simple "newness" in cinema, I was absolutely over-the-f*cking-moon delighted when THE ABCs OF DEATH was announced. 26 notable genre directors from all over the world each trying their hand at a 5-minute (or less) short after choosing a letter, assigning a word to that letter and then creating a story involving death; what's not to celebrate about such a concept?
Turns out that ABCs OF DEATH isn't the easiest pill to swallow, no matter what genre you're devoted to. It's less a real movie than an experiment; a fun experiment, yes, one I'm glad exists, but by its very nature a mixed experience that is alternately engaging, overwhelming and sometimes ponderous. It offers an array of talented directors working their damnedest to shock you, disgust you, weird you out and blow you away. The overall effect is, at the end of a feels-like-it 129-minute running time, kind of numbing. They very well could have gone with OVERKILL for the title.
The film was conceived and produced by Drafthouse Films, and their Alamo Drafthouses across the country seem to be the perfect venue for a feature like this - the kind of movie you can walk in and out of, have drinks with friends during. Perhaps even more ideal is its eventual home video release, where you'll be free to skip through the less desirable segments in order to focus on the more striking ones. That may be sacrilege to some, and certainly the film's creators wouldn't have it that way, but there's no getting around the fact that it's near impossible to enjoy every single one of the 26 stories on hand; you'll actually be lucky if you think half of them are truly exemplary. For the most part, they're interesting and sordidly clever, and the bulk of them you'll never need to see more than once. For this writer, only a handful are worth the price of admission, and I'll list them off here:
- A is for Apocalypse: Nacho Vigalondo's dementedly funny look at a how the end of the world begins for one blood-covered couple.
- D is for Dogfight: A stylish homage to FIGHT CLUB by Marcel Sarmiento that pits man against dog.
- J is for Jidai-Geki: A very bizarre peek at a samurai execution that doesn't go according to plan from Yudai Yamaguchi
- L is for Libido: Hard to say that I "liked" this one, because saying so could get me arrested, but Timo Tjahjanto's segment is so viciously unappealing that it earns special mention; it's quite possibly the most thoroughly gross of all the shorts.
- Q is for Quack: Adam Wingard's meta take on the entire project, in which he and writer Simon Barrett play themselves cursing the fact that they got stuck with "Q."
- T is for Toilet: This claymation depiction of a killer toilet's rage unleashed upon a family was directed by Lee Hardcastle, who submitted his entry through a contest set up by the producers. That it ends up being among the best of the bunch is fairly thrilling.
- U is for Unearthed: Ben Wheatley's funny and creative look at the unearthing of a creature of the night - from the creature's POV.
- X is for XXL - Xavier Gens' extremely gory and disturbing saga of an overweight girl who goes to extreme lengths to change her appearance.
Keep in mind that ABCs OF DEATH will be, like all works of art, subjective, and one man's D is for Dogfight will be another man's F is for Fart (Noboru Iguchi's baffling segment about... hell, I don't even know, but it's a chore). That it doesn't always succeed has to be accepted from the get-go, but what does work is the element of surprise inherent in the structure. There is literally no chance of you knowing what to expect from any given short, and you can rest assured the none of the filmmakers have taken the easy way out with their letters. (In other words, G doesn't stand for anything so pedestrian as "Gun", just as K doesn't stand for "Knife", etc.)
In fact, if you know your stuff, part of the fun of watching ABCs is in trying to guess who directed which segment and what the segment's title will be - a card announcing the director and title arrives after the short is over, not before, but if you're attuned to certain hallmarks of the artists involved, you'll catch on at least a few times.
Love, hate or feel indifferent to these stories, they're always guaranteed to be further beyond the pale that you could imagine; you're never in the company of a commonplace idea or visual. As a whole it is far from perfect, and I'll be the first to admit that it should have been monumental as opposed to merely "a cool thing that happened," but there's no denying that the horror world is a better place for having THE ABCs OF DEATH to call its own.