Fantastic Fest 2012 Review: The ABCs of Death

Posted on September 27, 2012 by Ben

Review by Eric Lefenfeld

After being announced a year ago, The ABCs Of Death has come full circle to have its US premiere at the homebase of co-producer and Alamo Drafthouse impresario Tim League. The basis of the anthology is as follows: League, along with producer Ant Timpson, approached 26 filmmakers from all over the world to come together for a horror anthology. Each director was assigned a single letter of the alphabet, and had to craft a death-centric short centered around a word of their choosing that starts with said letter. A is for Apocalypse, B is for Bigfoot, so on and so forth. The only rule was that the shorts had to begin and end with a closeup of something red. Other than that, the filmmakers had complete creative freedom in crafting their twisted visions.

The film needs to be judged in two contexts: both on a short-by-short basis as well as how they all flow together as a singular film. Individually, there’s more hits than misses in the lineup. I’ll leave out the words the letters stand for, as part of the fun in viewing the film is speculating what the word will be when it’s finally revealed at the end of a short. Standouts include the beautifully shot entry for D by Marcel Sarmiento, Adam Wingard’s hilariously self-referential Q, and Timo Tjahjanto’s sexual nightmare for L. If one favorite had to be picked, the honor would go to Jason Eisener’s candy-colored, propulsive entry for Y.

The beauty of such a packed collection is that if one of the shorts isn’t cutting it for you, there’s never a huge wait for the next one to begin. The goofy, acid flashback absurdism in Jon Schnepp’s W might not be one’s cup of tea, but Xavier Gens’ gruesome X is just around the corner. The narrow parameters of the project pretty much guarantee that the film will start feeling a bit repetitive. 26 deaths in a row, as entertaining as they might be, are still 26 deaths in a row. Desensitization can’t help but rear a bit of its ugly head as the film propels onward, but it’s mostly kept in check. The shorts are well-ordered in preventing everything from blurring together in a bloody mess; there’s enough wild zig-zagging between tones to keep the momentum going without ever feeling tedious.

As a cohesive whole, the film falters a bit, which prevents it from being mentioned in the same breath as classic anthology films. The very nature of the project – in which the individual directors had no contact with one another (outside of the Japanese filmmakers) during the production – is far from conducive in creating something, anything, that would generate even a subtle through line or book-end that would tie everything together into a fully unified work. The shorts, while all entertaining in their own right, do not feel of a piece. This isn’t a problem in and of itself, but the word “anthology” is a loaded phrase – a promise on which the film ultimately doesn’t follow through.

The ABCs Of Death is more of a twisted carnival ride than a film. It’s a lot of fun in the moment as one revels in the bloody fun, but it doesn’t really add up to much.