The ABCs of Death
ABCs of Death, The (2012)
★ / ★★★★
To expect all segments of an anthology to be equally worthwhile is tantamount to betting on all participants of a horse race to take first place, but I cannot help but be optimistic. I want all movies, feature length or short film, to be good. After all, I am the one sitting and looking at the screen.
In “The ABCs of Death,” each director is given a letter of the English alphabet and he or she chooses a word that begins with that letter. The word of their choice must be the theme of their respective chapter. What results is a wildly uneven collection, ranging from indescribably egregious trash to compelling piece of art that demands attention.
Out of the twenty-six, about five are worthy of being seen. The best is “Dogfight,” directed by Marcel Sarmiento, which focuses on a fight to the death between a man and a dog. It stands out because it possesses what others lack: control and a distinct style that fits the mood we experience and the images we see. There is no dialogue. The action occurs in slow motion. With each pulsating second, it captures the beast and savagery in a man and an animal. We see the dog’s teeth sink into a man’s flesh; we see a man jab at the animal’s head. The violence is horrific but never gratuitous.
Another that is likely to stay with the viewer is “XXL” by Xavier Gens. It is about a woman who has had it with everyone, including complete strangers on the street, telling her–some go as far as to tease her–that she is fat. One night, she goes to the bathroom with a knife and starts cutting off chunks of flesh so she can be as skinny as the woman on the television commercial. By the end of her self-mutilation, we see her with much less weight. Is she considered to be beautiful then? It is a social commentary.
There is a recurring theme about toilets. Keep in mind that the filmmakers did not discuss their submissions with one another. “Miscarriage” by Ti West is not at all developed–pardon the cruel pun. “Klutz” by Anders Morgenthaler is an amusing animation about a woman at a party who encounters problems in the restroom, but it offers little else. However, “Toilet” by Lee Hardcastle is quite intriguing. The detail of claymation is quite tactile. It is not for children even though it focuses on a little boy who is afraid to use the toilet. When characters die, it is very graphic and there is copious amount of blood. Unlike many of the segments, its energy is infectious. The filmmakers’ love for the craft can be felt.
Most maddening because it is so pointless is John Schnepp’s “WTF?”. In high school, teachers love to assign group projects. What they love even more is selecting members of your group. Well, with each group–it must be some sick joke, I don’t know–there is always at least one person who just doesn’t care. And when he or she miraculously ends up doing something, it is obvious that not a drop of effort is put into it. The title says it all really: random, unoriginal, immature. The images, quite frankly, are ugly and a waste of time.
I could go on about how much I disliked the others, from the exercises of confusion like Andrew Traucki’s “Gravity” and Jake West’s “Speed,” about a surfer who drowns and a woman on the run, respectively, to endurance tests of sick humor like Yudai Yamaguchi’s “Jidai-geki,” focusing on a samurai having second thoughts about killing another, and Yoshihiro Nishimura’s “Zetsumetsu,” which involves a giant penis. These segments treat our time like it is not valuable.
“The ABCs of Death” is depressing not because of the subjects it tackles–or lack thereof–but because it makes a statement–deliberately or otherwise–about the filmmakers involved. If the majority of these auteurs are the future of horror, it must be some sick joke. To me, horror is a craft. There is nothing skillful about bathing someone in blood and putting together disgusting images just to get a reaction. It is puerile trash.