Directed by Nacho Vigalondo, Adrián García Bogliano, Ernesto Díaz Espinoza, Marcel Sarmiento, Angela Bettis, Noboru Iguchi, Andrew Traucki, Thomas Cappelen Malling, Jorge Michel Grau, Yudai Yamaguchi, Anders Morgenthaler, Timo Tjahjanto, Ti West, Banjong Pisanthanakun, Hélène Cattet, Bruno Forzani, Simon Rumley, Adam Wingard, Srdjan Spasojevic, Jake West, Lee Hardcastle, Ben Wheatley, Kaare Andrews, Jon Schnepp, Xavier Gens, Jason Eisener, Yoshihiro Nishimura. 2013 129 minutes Not Rated (equivalent of NC-17 for graphic bloody violence and explicit sexual content).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, February 4, 2013.
The premise behind the making of "The ABCs of Death" is admirably novel: hire 26 directors from across the globe, assign them a particular letter of the alphabet, and then give them free reign to create a short film dealing in some way with death. Unlike 2012's fun and creepy anthology "V/H/S," however, the goal of these directors seems to be to gross out and make one nervously laugh instead of be scared. Out of twenty-six shorts, it is rather amazing to consider that not a single one could be considered genuinely frightening. Disgusting and in the worst taste possible? Oh, yes, certainly. Something that will cause the viewer to leave their lights on at night, though? Sadly, no.
With each part of the anthology running usually no more than five minutes apiece, the film moves quickly despite its two-plus-hour running time and doesn't have a chance to wear out its welcome since the stories are constantly changing. Don't like what you're watching now? Not to worry; it will be over in just a couple minutes. Where "The ABCs of Death" gets into trouble is in the surprising repetition that comes with so many shorts strung together. At least four of them have an odd preoccupation with the toilet (the uber-talented Ti West of 2009's "The House of the Devil" finally directs a stinker, certainly one of the worst and most lazy segments, "M is for Miscarriage"), while several deal in pedophilia (the twisted if nonsensical "L is for Libido," the proudly off-kilter "Y is for Youngbuck"), torture (take your pick), and base humor (the Japanese "F is for Fart" and the animated "K is for Klutz," about a turd that refuses to flush down the toilet, come to mind). Meanwhile, stories that show great promise in the setup, such as "B is for Bigfoot," fall apart in their payoff, while the time-traveling, clone-laden "C is for Cycle" would have been a lot cooler had it not already been done in 2008's "Timecrimes."
"The ABCs of Death" is a disappointing experiment that doesn't quite gel the way it should have. Had all the filmmakers undertaken their respective letter with more seriousness, it might have helped to offset the blackened humor, and vice versa. As is, only a handful of highlights emerge. "D is for Dogfight" stands out for its slow-motion style. "H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion" is bursting with freaky canine makeup and costumes and a Nazi undercurrent. "P is for Pressure" is easily the most serious tale, a docudrama about the degrading lengths a woman will go to provide for her children. And "XXL" disturbs and provokes as it portrays the drastic lengths a publicly ridiculed overweight lady goes to shed some pounds. With "The ABCs of Death," the overriding unevenness of the project puts a damper on the experience as a whole, and when it's over there is nothing to take away but the namesake gimmick. The end of life really ought not to be treated as such an immature lark.