Reviews - Specialty Releases


Film Review: The ABCs of Death

Viewers of a certain age and whimsically morbid temperament may be reminded of writer/illustrator Edward Gorey's 1963 The Gashlycrumb Tinies, a spare and mordantly funny book about the dreadful demises of 26 children, from Amy who fell down the stairs to Zillah who drank too much gin. Would that the impressively ambitious ABCs of Death, an anthology movie whose reach exceeds its grasp by a considerable margin, were so memorable.

March 8, 2013

-By Maitland McDonagh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1372828-ABCs_Death_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Producers Ant Timpson and Tim League recruited 28 filmmakers (not 26, the film's advertising materials notwithstanding; there are two teams in the mix) to write and direct short, sharp shockers about death in all its infinite variety, one for each letter of the alphabet. The good news is that The ABCs of Death doesn't place the U.S. at the center of the contemporary horror universe: While six segments were helmed by American directors, including Ti West ( House of the Devil) and Angela Bettis (better known as an actress whose credits include the 2002 remake of Carrie), the rest are an international mix representing countries that include Japan, France, Spain, Denmark, Thailand, Serbia and Norway—all in their original languages.

The bad news almost goes without saying. The ABCs of Death is wildly uneven, the inherent weakness of anthology movies—even the revered Dead of Night (1945) includes an excruciating comic-relief segment involving golfing ghosts. That said, no portion of The ABCs of Death equals Dead of Night's high point, which launched a thousand nightmares about malevolent ventriloquist's dummies, though Marcel (Deadgirl) Sarmiento's "D is for Dogfight," a wordless parable about the unbreakable bond between a man and his dog comes close; the challenge of setting up a shocking eleventh-hour twist that plays fair with the viewer is multiplied exponentially when you have less than five minutes in which to do it, and Sarmiento pulls it off.

"X is for XXL," directed by Xavier Gens (Frontieres), takes body-image obsession to its grotesquely logical conclusion; Timo Tjahjanto's "L is for Libido" is admirably repellent, if reminiscent of Tom Shankland and Clive Bradley's 2007 feature The Killing Gene, and "I is for Ingrown," directed by Jorge Michel Grau ( We Are What We Are) is a surprisingly haunting distillation of the violence- against-women imagery that permeates the genre.

Low points include Noboru (The Machine Girl) Iguchi's "F is for Fart," an apocalyptic ode to passing gas; West's "M is for Miscarriage," a lazy one-joke snippet without a joke; Jon (TV's “Metalocalypse”) Schnepp's "W is for WTF!," a pointless collection of juvenile, fanboy gross-out imagery; and Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police) Yoshihiro's equally incoherent "Z is for Zetsumetsu, which does feature the bizarrely striking image of a girl jiggling together her tattooed breasts, one inked with the World Trade Center and the other with a plane.

In the end, The ABCs of Death is the sum of its disparate parts, and the bad drags down the good—it's especially unfortunate that the viewer's last impression is "Z is for Zetsumetsu," because as any experienced filmmaker will tell you, it's much better for a movie to start badly and end well than the other way around: Last impressions color everything that precedes them.


Film Review: The ABCs of Death

Viewers of a certain age and whimsically morbid temperament may be reminded of writer/illustrator Edward Gorey's 1963 The Gashlycrumb Tinies, a spare and mordantly funny book about the dreadful demises of 26 children, from Amy who fell down the stairs to Zillah who drank too much gin. Would that the impressively ambitious ABCs of Death, an anthology movie whose reach exceeds its grasp by a considerable margin, were so memorable.

March 8, 2013

-By Maitland McDonagh


filmjournal/photos/stylus/1372828-ABCs_Death_Md.jpg

For movie details, please click here.

Producers Ant Timpson and Tim League recruited 28 filmmakers (not 26, the film's advertising materials notwithstanding; there are two teams in the mix) to write and direct short, sharp shockers about death in all its infinite variety, one for each letter of the alphabet. The good news is that The ABCs of Death doesn't place the U.S. at the center of the contemporary horror universe: While six segments were helmed by American directors, including Ti West (House of the Devil) and Angela Bettis (better known as an actress whose credits include the 2002 remake of Carrie), the rest are an international mix representing countries that include Japan, France, Spain, Denmark, Thailand, Serbia and Norway—all in their original languages.

The bad news almost goes without saying. The ABCs of Death is wildly uneven, the inherent weakness of anthology movies—even the revered Dead of Night (1945) includes an excruciating comic-relief segment involving golfing ghosts. That said, no portion of The ABCs of Death equals Dead of Night's high point, which launched a thousand nightmares about malevolent ventriloquist's dummies, though Marcel (Deadgirl) Sarmiento's "D is for Dogfight," a wordless parable about the unbreakable bond between a man and his dog comes close; the challenge of setting up a shocking eleventh-hour twist that plays fair with the viewer is multiplied exponentially when you have less than five minutes in which to do it, and Sarmiento pulls it off.

"X is for XXL," directed by Xavier Gens (Frontieres), takes body-image obsession to its grotesquely logical conclusion; Timo Tjahjanto's "L is for Libido" is admirably repellent, if reminiscent of Tom Shankland and Clive Bradley's 2007 feature The Killing Gene, and "I is for Ingrown," directed by Jorge Michel Grau (We Are What We Are) is a surprisingly haunting distillation of the violence- against-women imagery that permeates the genre.

Low points include Noboru (The Machine Girl) Iguchi's "F is for Fart," an apocalyptic ode to passing gas; West's "M is for Miscarriage," a lazy one-joke snippet without a joke; Jon (TV's “Metalocalypse”) Schnepp's "W is for WTF!," a pointless collection of juvenile, fanboy gross-out imagery; and Nishimura (Tokyo Gore Police) Yoshihiro's equally incoherent "Z is for Zetsumetsu, which does feature the bizarrely striking image of a girl jiggling together her tattooed breasts, one inked with the World Trade Center and the other with a plane.

In the end, The ABCs of Death is the sum of its disparate parts, and the bad drags down the good—it's especially unfortunate that the viewer's last impression is "Z is for Zetsumetsu," because as any experienced filmmaker will tell you, it's much better for a movie to start badly and end well than the other way around: Last impressions color everything that precedes them.
Post a Comment
Asterisk (*) is a required field.
* Author: 
Rate This Article: (1=Bad, 5=Perfect)

*Comment:
 

More Specialty Releases

E-Team
Film Review: E-Team

Four international human rights investigators descend on political atrocities to determine accountability. More »

Laggies
Film Review: Laggies

Disappointing comedic entry about a late-20s slacker who won’t grow up is writer/filmmaker Lynn Shelton’s first outing directing someone else’s material. Points here for strong cast and an occasional chuckle, but otherwise there’s just no point. More »

Rudderless
Film Review: Rudderless

Well-done indie drama about a lost-soul house painter reborn through rock ’n’ roll is a nice actor’s showcase for star Billy Crudup and an impressive directorial debut for actor William H. Macy. But in spite of some good work onscreen, both hero and story lack the edge and originality to carry this drama beyond respectability. More »

Camp X-Ray
Film Review: Camp X-Ray

Army guard and Guantanamo detainee form a grudging relationship in a thoughtful but far-fetched drama. More »

ADVERTISEMENT



REVIEWS

Fury Review
Film Review: Fury

American tanks fight superior German forces in the closing days of World War II. More »

Birdman
Film Review: Birdman (or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)

Virtuosic camerawork and a stellar ensemble of actors more than make up for the occasional moment of portentous twaddle in Alejandro G. Iñárritu's latest—and maybe his best—film. More »

Player for the Film Journal International website.


ADVERTISEMENT



INDUSTRY GUIDES

» Blue Sheets
FJI's guide to upcoming movie releases, including films in production and development. Check back weekly for the latest additions.

» Distribution Guide
» Equipment Guide
» Exhibition Guide

ORDER A PRINT SUBSCRIPTION

Film Journal International

Subscribe to the monthly print edition of Film Journal International and get the full visual impact of this valuable resource for the cinema business.

» Click Here

SPONSORSHIP OPPORTUNITIES

Learn how to promote your company at the Film Expo Group events: ShowEast, CineEurope, and CineAsia.

» Click Here