January 31, 2013 (US VOD), March 8, 2013 (Limited)
Erik Aude as Fighter
Iván González as Bobo
Kyra Zagorsky as Lainey
Takashi Nishina as Executioner
Ingrid Bolsø Berdal as Frau Scheisse (voice)
26 shorts. TWENTY-SIX SHORTS. How the Hell do you review an anthology film comprised of 26 different shorts by 27 different indie directors as a complete film? Easy: You examine each segment one by one. Below there are capsule reviews of every single segment of The ABCs of Death. Some of the shorts are in English, some aren’t. The “wraparound” isn’t included because there really isn’t one… basically blood flows into a room filled with children’s alphabet blocks at the opening (in an admittedly great scene) and the blocks spell out the name of the segment in a pool of blood at each one’s end. The segments are in the order they appear in the film, that is to say alphabetically. In the interest of not revealing spoilers, they’re going to be referred to only by the letter they show, not their full titles. Also, because I want to write 5000 words total about 26 shorts as much as you, the reader, likely want to read them, I’m going to keep these as short and quick as possible…which kind of is the default anyway since, because the runtime of this minus credits is about 2 hours, each segment only runs an average of four or five minutes. Finally, at the end of each review, the short will be scored 1 (strong), 0.5 (average), or 0 (weak). Adding the numbers up and dividing by 26 at the end should give a good gauge of the movie’s rating as a whole (which, since I’ve calculated this before writing it, I already know matches what I would’ve given the movie on its own merits). Let’s begin shall we?
A- Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes)
Plot: A woman attacks her husband and comes clean to him.
Excellent use of practical effects and a short alternately funny and emotional that truly hits its mark once its full name is revealed.
B- Written and directed by Adrián Garcia Boglíano (Cold Sweat, Penumbra)
Plot: A brother and his girlfriend tell a child they’re watching a story to get them to go to bed.
A story that starts off well with a creepy-sounding story only to flounder in the execution of its ending.
C- Written and directed by Ernesto Díaz Espinoza (Mandrill)
Plot: A man finds himself in the midst of a series of events that seem to keep repeating themselves.
Confusing story that doesn’t really seem to ever get going, have a point, or come to a satisfying conclusion.
D- Written and directed by Marcel Sarmiento (Deadgirl)
Plot: A man does battle in a different sort of underground fight club.
An interesting concept poorly executed thanks to being far too long and featuring an extreme overuse of slow-mo.
E- Directed by Angela Bettis (Roman) and inspired by a Brent Hanley short story
Plot: A man goes head-to-head with a surprisingly resilient and tactful spider.
A cute story made interesting by being very sound-focused that is also a well-done retelling of a classic story.
F- Written and directed by Noboru Iguchi (Dead Sushi, Robogeisha, Mutant Girls Squad)
Plot: A weird, almost-romantic story involving a schoolgirl, her crush… and farting.
No, Noboru Iguchi. Just… no. You can make it look as visually interesting as you want to, but… no.
G- Written and directed by Andrew Traucki (The Reef)
Plot: A man’s experience while surfing.
Done completely from the surfer’s POV, one of the more interesting shorts in the film due to its lack of dialogue and use of ambient noise. Not perfect, but stands out by being so different from much of the rest of the film.
H- Written and directed by Thomas Cappelen Malling (Norwegian Ninja)
Plot: The story of a World War II soldier heading into a nightclub.
That plot synopsis intentionally undersells just how abjectly bizarre this segment is. Almost a live-action cartoon, the sheer weirdness and fun of the segment kind of grew on me.
I- Written and directed by Jorge Michel Grau (We Are What We Are)
Plot: A woman in peril’s thoughts.
Upon first seeing this segment, I didn’t like it as I thought it had minimal point and didn’t explain itself very well. After reading the credits, however, Grau appears to be making a bigger statement with this short than it appears on the surface, making it somewhat more worthwhile.
J- Written and directed by Yudai Yamaguchi (Battlefield Baseball, Meatball Machine)
Plot: The death of a samurai.
Works outstandingly well by adding humor and good makeup effects to what would normally be a far more serious idea.
K- Written and directed by Anders Morgenthaler (Echo)
Plot: A woman has some problems in the bathroom at a party.
Decent animated segment played entirely for laughs that suffers purely from the fact that it feels very out-of-place in this film.
L- Written and directed by Timo Tjahjanto (Macabre)
Plot: A man finds himself in a demented and disturbing competition for the amusement of a crowd of masked onlookers.
By far one of the most disturbing and boundary-testing of the segments in the anthology. Also one of its best owing to good performances and an extremely well-written story that makes an absurd, extreme situation genuinely harrowing.
M- Written and directed by Ti West (The Innkeepers, The House of the Devil, V/H/S)
Plot: A woman has to take some plumbing issues into her own hands.
Short segment with an unbelievably simple premise that works well in part because of how unexpectedly happy the main character is in the given situation.
N- Directed/Written by Banjong Pisanthanakun (Shutter, Phobia) and written by Nontra Kumwong
Plot: A man tries to make his girlfriend happy with a new pet bird he’s trained.
Brilliant segment that takes a turn from cute love story to awesomely hilarious with a dark twist in one fell swoop.
O- Written and directed by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani (Amer)
Plot: A man and a woman have sex.
Out-of-place in that it feels more like an art piece than a horror anything, yet still exceedingly interesting for the visual style its makers bring to it.
P- Written and directed by Simon Rumley (The Living and the Dead, Red White & Blue)
Plot: A woman looks into prostitution for the money to help her get her children what they want.
Well-done short that works by having a surprising climax, and by conveying the challenges of the main character’s choice through events in the story, an underground/seedy setting, and handheld cinematography.
Q- Directed by Adam Wingard (A Horrible Way to Die, You’re Next), Written by Simon Barrett
Plot: Wingard and Barrett attempt to figure out what they could film for their letter.
There are two “meta” segments in The ABCs of Death… this is the good one. Very funny with a decent-if-mildly-predictable surprise ending.
R- Directed/Written by Srdjan Spasojevic (A Serbian Film) and written by Dimitrije Vojnov
Plot: A man undergoes medical experiments and operations at the hands of strange doctors and scientists.
Interesting and grisly practical effects are undone by the feeling that the short is trying to make a grander statement about what moviemaking and cinema “is” but never fully gets around to making clear what that statement is. Its audacity makes it worthwhile, but it’s not as shocking as the director’s filmography would imply.
S- Written and Directed by Jake West (Razor Blade Smile, Doghouse, Evil Aliens)
Plot: Two women chase each other while a mysterious stranger chases both of them.
The twist of what’s actually going on in this story is very interesting but it isn’t enough to overcome the fact that the short feels surprisingly dull otherwise.
T- Written and Directed by Lee Hardcastle
Plot: A husband and wife try to toilet-train their child.
The short that ended up in the film as the result of a contest to fill the final spot (many of the other entries are on Youtube), this Claymation piece starts a little slow and annoying but won me over with just how dark and grisly it got by its end.
U- Directed/Written by Ben Wheatley (Kill List) and written by Andy Starke
Plot: Townsfolk battle a mysterious creature.
Another POV entry that works well because of how genuinely suspenseful and intense the chase feels and how much the cinematography allows us to get in the creature’s head.
V- Written and Directed by Kaare Andrews (Altitude)
Plot: In the future, a military battalion tries to quell a possible threat to its power.
The weird situation where a short is incredibly ambitious, has high production values, and is interesting… but fails by feeling out of place in this film.
W- Written and Directed by Jon Schnepp (“The Venture Bros.”, “Metalocalypse”)
Plot: Schnepp’s indecision over what to make his letter about causes things to take a surreal turn.
The other “meta” short, this one fails by going way, way too far off the deep end. You can still have this be about what it is… and still have a point, you know.
X- Written and Directed by Xavier Gens (Frontier(s), The Divide)
Plot: A day in the life of an overweight woman.
Features outstanding practical effects, makes viewers feel for the protagonist, and, through the way the short is structured, has a clear, interesting, well-handled message. A standout.
Y- Written and Directed by Jason Eisener (“Treevenge”, Hobo with a Shotgun)
Plot: A man’s past actions come back for revenge.
An interesting concept and story with colorful cinematography hurt by being significantly overlong.
Z- Written and Directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police, Helldriver, Mutant Girls Squad)
Plot: I could not put the plot of this short in words if I tried.
Better than his countryman Iguchi but mostly is still just an endless, overlong parade of some of the most bizarre imagery imaginable. Short is also loaded with racist dialogue and sex but, when you try too hard to be offensive, you end up not being so. At least the ending had a good Dr. Strangelove joke.
Total Score for Film: 16/26
The ABCs of Death is recommended for at least one viewing purely based on the audacity of making a single movie out of 26 VASTLY different stories and the quality of some of its standouts (like L, N, and X). Its greatest flaws, of course, are unavoidable and come from its very nature as a 26-part anthology. The quality of the shorts is inconsistent with admittedly the majority being good or at least watchable. The actual act of watching 26 different stories over about 2 hours is also an endurance trial for absolutely anyone. Finally, the shorts tend to skew less “scary” than one would think from a director group like this. However, this is still a decent anthology overall that will hopefully turn people on to some of the directors in it whose work might not be as well known to the more casual horror fan. And hey, if you don’t like one segment… just hang around for 5 minutes or so, it’ll end, and someone else will try to entertain you.