Anthology films are a strange beast. They allow for short sharp bursts of inspiration, but are also at the mercy of their weakest parts.
As far as ideas for anthology films go, the one for The ABCs of Death (2012) is pretty exceptional. 26 different directors were each given a letter of the alphabet and a $5,000 budget (so when you think of it, this is an exceptionally cheap feature length film that I suspect has made its budget back many times over). They were then given the artistic freedom to come up with a form of death starting with their assigned letter.
The end result is perhaps unsurprisingly, patchy. I thought with this review, I would institute a highly innovative and new patented rating system for each short of Awesome, Decent and Rubbish. After the short individual reviews, I will give some thoughts on how I feel the film functions as a whole. Here we go.
- A is for Apocalypse (Nacho Vigalondo) – A relatively funny little experience with unfortunately terrible special effects. A silly final twist that falls flat is unfortunately the first of quite a few. Decent
- B is for Bigfoot (Adrian Garcia Bogliano) – Cool old school conceit of telling a child a scary story to make them go to sleep (for the purposes of having a youthful root rather than getting them to sleep on Christmas Eve though). Story is really wordy and the ending of this one is not just stupid, it fails to connect the film to the title. Rubbish
- C is for Cycle (Ernesto Diaz Espinoza) – One of the more experimental films in form is also one of the better ones. None of the other 25 build tension as well as this one. Plus any film with a mysterious portal is more than fine with me. Awesome
- D is for Dogfight (Marcel Sarmiento) – This takes place in a nicely shot (all slow-mo) underground fighting ring. This is a personal thing, but I really don’t like films that present animals in this way and I thought it was a bit nasty. A nice little twist ending doesn’t hide the fact there is no ability to fashion a story here. Rubbish
- E is for Exterminate (Angela Bettis) – An interesting look at the passage of time is wasted by an annoyingly CGI spider and poor acting all round. Rubbish
- F is for Fart (Noboru Iguchi) – Surprisingly this is actually even more crass and immature than the title suggests. A sprinkling of lesbian desire is thrown in to add to the feeling that a 14 year old boy made this. Disgusting. Rubbish
- G is for Gravity (Andrew Traucki) – The Aussie Traucki gets things back on track with one of the artier shorts. Shot from a cool first person point of view and making use of some beautiful beach scenery more than cancels out an oblique ending. Awesome
- H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion (Thomas Malling) – It is hard to hate something this absurdist. It is also hard to make something this absurdist truly work and connect. A gentleman’s club for dogs. Featuring a cat… and Nazis. This shit is both whack and whimsical. Decent
- I is for Ingrown (Jorge Michel Grau) – No absurdist fun here, this is dark, troubling and atmospheric. Whilst it is hard to watch it is also really nicely put together and thought provoking (the latter attribute is something quite lacking in these shorts, even amongst the ones I enjoyed). Awesome
- J is for Jidai-geki (Samurai Movie) (Yûdai Yamaguchi) – This is really quite funny and does not go all out stupid on the comedy like some of the others. The very cool effects don’t hurt either. Decent
- K is for Klutz (Anders Morgenthaler) – Oh excellent, some constipation and shit to go along with the earlier farting. An annoying cartoon with poor animation. Rubbish
- L is for Libido (Timo Tjahjanto) – And this is where the film as a whole really lost me. I generally am not offended by films, but I found this short to be offensive. It wasn’t just enough that I had real issues with the way it approaches notions of beauty and desire. The use of paedophilia here makes it one of the most confronting things I have seen on film. When you shock, you need to be incisive in some way or you are just being manipulative and tasteless. That is what this one is, and I just wanted it to be over. Rubbish
- M is for Miscarriage (Ti West) – My above comment about being incisive rings true for this as well. Miscarriage is such a sensitive topic for so many people and I don’t think this is respectful of that. At this point, the reliance on body style horror was really getting tiresome. Rubbish
- N is for Nuptials (Banjong Pisanthanakun) – Starting with a super sweet proposal, this one is actually pretty funny and manages to embrace sex in a humorous way. I’m not sure it’s a horror film though. Decent
- O is for Orgasm (Bruno Forzani & Héléne Cattet) – So beautifully shot it could be the Terrence Malick entry. O is also for obscure as shit though. Decent
- P is for Pressure (Simon Rumley) – This has a really gritty, ‘street’ feel to it. A prostitute looking to provide for her family. This is another really confronting one, but at least here there is a semblance of commentary. And the way that the film represents the title is the best of the lot. Decent
- Q is for Quack (Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett) – This is a really quite hilarious and meta entry into the anthology. Analyses the process that goes into making one of these segments. Very clever and incisive. My favourite of them all. Awesome
- R is for Removed (Srdjan Spasojevic) – This is a really graphic entry that is one of many to tap into the whole notion of spectatorship. Combining gross body horror with allusions to film and managing to look really great for the budget, it is just a little let down by the rubbish effects shot that concludes the film. Decent
- S is for Speed (Jake West) – Woah the acting in this is terrible. However this actually ends up having one of the most powerful stories of the lot, delivered through a really well crafted narrative. Decent
- T is for Toilet (Lee Hardcastle) – Not sure you can go wrong with a claymation short about a killer toilet. The animation looks great and it is awesomely graphic. The only thing it really has going for it is the animation. But that one thing is really fantastic. Awesome
This one has also been posted on Youtube by the director so check it out here:
- U is for Unearthed (Ben Wheatley) – This is another that uses a first person shooting style to great effect. The style really adds to the action and sense of mystery, whilst also probably helping to keep the budget down. Decent
- V is for Vagitus (The Cry of a Newborn Baby) (Kaare Andrews) – Very high concept (for the budget at least) sci-fi entry. A bummer then that the story is just severely lacking for what they were aiming for. Rubbish
- W is for WTF! (Jon Schnepp) – Another self-reflexive one sees different W ideas being tossed around. To be reflexive like that without being pretentious is tough to do, but this manages it. Does get a little too all over the shop though. Decent
- X is for XXL (Xavier Gens) – With its very visceral scenes of overeating this is another challenging one. The main performance is very good. And the bloody and brutal approach does not stop the film having some pertinent things to say about body image. Decent
- Y is for Youngbuck (Jason Eisener) – A Klaus Kinski rip-off in something looking like a music video. But a really fucked up and crap one from the 80s. Rubbish
- Z is for Zetsumetsu (Yoshihiro Nishimura) – More of this notion of the spectator on voyeur. But this one is overwhelmed buy being nonsensical and graphic. Boobs, dildos and lesbian pashing to appeal to the teens. Rubbish
Overall I think it is fair to label The ABCs of Death as a pretty big disappointment. Whilst the early entries were definitely lacking on occasions, there was actually enough wit, originality and fun in the ideas to win me over. However after the nastiness of L is for Libido and to a lesser extent M is for Miscarriage, the film lost a lot of goodwill with me. There is a lot to like here. If you are able to find the films individually, then I would really recommend that you seek out the films I rated as Awesome or even Decent. Save yourself the trouble on the others though which are really quite poor and at times offensive. Which is a shame, because even for all its faults there is a lot to applaud here. Not the least of which is a relatively global list of directors, locations and cultures captured, which is a really pleasant surprise and helps to add some texture to the film as a whole. Hopefully The ABCs of Death 2, which is due next year, can improve some of the quality control issues this film has.
Verdict: Schooner of Carlton Draught
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