Oh dear goodness, this was a test of perseverance. As I often like to take notes while I'm watching a new movie - just random thoughts that help me write my reviews later - The ABCs of Death nearly kicked my ass because a movie that was already over 2 hours long took me around 3 hours to watch because I had to keep pausing and writing. And like I predicted, I was sometimes writing very positive things and sometimes writing very, very negative things. The ABCs of Death is just like any anthology wherein you have hits and misses, but this one had far too many misses to make me recommend the whole thing.
So you probably know the deal here: Twenty-six filmmakers from around the world were each given a letter of the alphabet, and they had to come up with a word that started with that letter to make a short film about death. Out of the 26, I count 9 that I put stars by, meaning that I really liked it, and 3 that I put half stars by, meaning that I sorta liked it. I guess that's not so bad but a lot of these dudes could have done so
much better. And a lot of them needed to stay away from anything having to do with the bathroom.
"A is for Apocalypse"
Directed by Nacho Vigalando
This was an excellent way to start things out. This is the kind of short film that I really like - they get the main point across but the story has so much room to grow if it was given more time. The lighting is beautiful and the effects work is absolutely killer. This one definitely gets a star.
"B is for Bigfoot"
Directed by Adrian Garcia Bogliano
Could have been so much better if two things had happened: one, if there had actually been a freaking Bigfoot in the short, and two, if the director hadn't wasted so much of the minimal time on the two characters telling the story rather than showing us something interesting. Weak. The main actress was good, though.
"C is for Cycle"
Directed by Diaz Espinoza
A mysterious hole in the bushes of a man's backyard are the center of a strange "cycle" of events in this short. The production quality leaves a little to be desired, but again this was semi-interesting because I can see it being a part of a much larger story.
"D is for Dogfight"
Directed by Marcel Sarmiento
Easily my favorite one of all! "Dogfight" shows a boxer in some kind of underground Fight Club type thing were he has to fight a vicious dog. The whole thing is in slow motion and it looks so freaking pretty, you guys! The angles are perfect, and I'll be damned if the dog isn't one really good actor. It's a simple story with a simple little twist to it that had me totally LOLing and falling in love with this thing at the same time. Two thumbs up!
"E is for Exterminate"
Directed by Angela Bettis
I'm so sorry, my dear Angela, but this was lame. The CGI spider was bad enough but then the whole ending was completely ruined because it's so similar to an urban legend that's been around for years. I guess I was expecting something a bit more imaginative. Still love you, girlfriend.
"F is for Fart"
Directed by Noboru Iguchi
I have nothing nice to say about this. That is all.
"G is for Gravity"
Directed by Andrew Traucki
The death of a surfer is so... boring. All this consisted of was a POV shot of a guy getting his stuff out of the back of his car, running onto the beach and into the water, paddling around for a little bit, and then somehow falling in the water and drowning or something. The last shot is the surfboard standing on end in the water. Guess I don't get it, or it's just not all that impressive. Boo.
"H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion"
Directed by Thomas Cappelen Malling
Thus begins one of the many "What in the holy fuck is this" shorts. Or maybe it began with the fart one. A Nazi cat stripteasing for a dogfighter dog and then trying to kill him with some electric machine thing? Was this a reference to something else that I totally didn't get? Whatever. Hated it.
"I is for Ingrown"
Directed by Jorge Michel Grau
Gorgeous. A woman tied up in a bathtub is being murdered by her husband, with some really beautiful and meaningful dialogue playing in the background. The actress is also beautiful and so committed to the role that it is painful to watch the way she scratches at her throat and arms, and the way whatever her husband injected her with makes her vomit through her gag. Ew. Really nice job here, Mr. Grau!
"J is for Jidai-Geki (Samurai Movie)"
Directed by Yudai Yamaguchi
There's not a lot of substance or meaning to this short, but it's good for a bit of a laugh. The effects aren't bad, however, I'm still wondering about those wigs or whatever it was those guys had on the tops of their heads. Was there a point to that?
"K is for Klutz"
Directed by Anders Morganthaler
"K is for Klutz" is one of a few animated shorts in the bunch. Though the animation is nice, poo and toilet humor has, was, and always will be incredibly juvenile and unfunny so this one lost points with me for the subject matter.
"L is for Libido"
Directed by Timo Tjahjanto
This is one that started out like it could be half-funny, half-serious but then turned into all kinds of serious. It actually turns out to be pretty fucking fucked up, as it deals with the depths of sexual perversion and gratification. The gore is excellent with the spikes that come up through the chairs, and the images just get worse and worse as this short invades your mind. You all know I love the dark stuff so I was all over this one - even though there is a quick scene involving a child that... I can't even go there. The set is amazing, the acting is good, this looks like a real movie. Loved it.
"M is for Miscarriage"
Directed by Ti West
A shorter than short, lazy piece of "filmmaking." I expected so much more from Ti West because though this short does deliver an effective punch, it is by far the weakest of all the shorts and even worse than the fart one. So, so disappointing.
"N is for Nuptials"
Directed by Banjong Pisanthanakun
Surprisingly a very cute and entertaining piece about a man who buys a parrot to help him propose to his girlfriend and the parrot ends up revealing one of the man's secrets which turns out to be deadly for him! This one got a half star just for being funny even though there's not much else to the story. The actors are also beyond adorable.
"O is for Orgasm"
Directed by Bruno Forzani and Helene Cattet
Not so much a short film as an experimental film, and a well done one at that. I couldn't give it a star because it just didn't do anything for me on a personal level, but I can admit that it is beautifully shot and is very good at keeping your attention. I would appreciate if someone would explain the bubbles to me, though.
"P is for Pressure"
Directed by Simon Rumley
Really nice story that is told with no dialogue and a succession of quick shots and short scenes to show the hard life of a young single woman with three kids. There's no horror element to the story, and it instead reaches you on a real emotional level that hits hard. I'll never condone the killing of a kitten for a bicycle but at least there's a happy ending. This one gets a star for sure.
"Q is for Quack"
Directed by Adam Wingard
OMG, this was genius. Director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett (love both of these dudes) play themselves in the short, lamenting over the fact that they were assigned the letter "Q" for their ABCs of Death segment. Needless to say, they come up with a clever way to solve their problem - even if it doesn't have very good consequences for them. Too funny. I love these dudes even more now!
"R is for Removed"
Directed by Srdjan Spasojevic
From the director of the controversial A Serbian Film (which I still need to write about...) comes another hardcore - no pun intended - story about... something. Yeah, it was another one I didn't get at all. Some kind of medical experiment on a guy who's got pieces of film strip in his flesh or something? Is that right? Then he escapes and kills everyone in pretty gross ways. A lot of these shorts are starting to make me feel really, really stupid and like I should have paid more attention in English lit class about symbolism and all that crap. I need to read up on this one some more.
"S is for Speed"
Directed by Jake West
Hated this at first because it was incredibly amateurish and hokey looking, but it ended up getting a half star for turning into a more serious story about death chasing a pair of junkie girls. Nice turnaround!
"T is for Toilet"
Directed by Lee Hardcastle
After Dogfight, this is definitely my second favorite of all the segments. It's a pretty crude (effects-wise) claymation short about a boy's fear of the toilet. He has a dream where the toilet turns into a monster and hideously devours his parents, with some great stuff that is all the more entertaining because it's claymation. The ending is funny in a really, really horrible way - but you will completely love it. "Danny Glover had nothing to be afraid of in Lethal Weapon 2." So true.
"U is for Unearthed"
Directed by Ben Wheatley
Unearthed is the only short to take on a true horror trope - vampires! It's another one that avoids the cost of effects by doing it in POV but it works here, as a vampire first escapes from the earth, attacks people in the woods, and then is ceremoniously put down. Simple, but effective. That's all you need to do, people. Good work.
"V is for Vagitus (The Cry of a Newborn Baby)"
Directed by Kaare Andrews
Okay, um... wow! So put Vagitus up next to Miscarriage, and you'll understand my frustration with Mr. Ti West. Vagitus has this whole crazy sci-fi story about the future and prophets and babies - I don't care! There was wonderful action, acting, and effects work in such a short time that it felt like someone had cut together the best parts of a full length movie. Excellent!
"W is for WTF!"
Directed by Jon Schnepp
WTF indeed. It starts out as a real story, similar to what they did in Quack actually, but then just turns into a series of random shots of stuff I don't remember. The title pops onto screen at the end and you go, Oh. So none of that was supposed to make any sense or anything. Just a lot of WTF shots. Boring. Not creative.
"X is for XXL"
Directed Xavier Gens
Fucking YES, you guys. This was beyond perfect in so many ways. It's a social commentary, a moral commentary, and so incredibly gruesome and disturbing in an incredibly meaningful, heartbreaking way. Love, love, love it.
"Y is for Youngbuck"
Directed Jason Eisener
So, no one likes a perverted old guy and Eisener goes about the subject of revenge in a very interesting way. Still, I didn't like it. Not enough explanation or exploration, and it really needed to flesh out the story just a bit more.
"Z is for Zetsumetsu (Extinction)"
Directed by Yoshihiro Nishimura
Very much the biggest WTF short of all - it out-WTFs the previous WTF segment, and I didn't know that was possible. I have no idea what this was about or what the point of it was so therefore I don't care and I don't like it. There's naked chicks and big penises, and way more ridiculousness than I can handle. An ADULT made this thing, right? Oi vey.
FINALLY, THE END. Okay, so I'm naming my top three favorites as Dogfight, Toilet, and XXL. Least favorite and most disappointing was Miscarriage, and also Hydro-Electric Diffusion, Gravity... and about 10 other ones. I was hoping for a better balance of hits and misses with all these shorts but I guess that might have been impossible with all these different personalities and styles. We'll see what a new crop of directors can come up with in the next ABCs of Death!