Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Today's review has been brought to you by The ABCs of Death

I'm leaving for a family reunion tonight, so you might not hear from me until Tuesday. Last night, as I was doing some last minute chores and making a family poster (construction paper and a glue stick, yo) I watched the anthology The ABCs of Death which is awesomely available on Netflix instant watch.

The basic premise is one of the best ideas ever: 26 directors each pick a letter from the alphabet, come up with a word starting with that letter and make a short film in which at least one person must die in relation to the chosen word. It's a head-scratcher why no one had come up with this before now.

Full disclosure: I was multitasking during the first few letters. My apologies to those filmmakers. You didn't get a fair shake from me and I'm sorry. I really started paying attention around F, which happened to be for Fart.

Farts are more dangerous than we ever could have known, especially when first held in by sweet Japanese schoolgirls. Once released, goodbye world. It's one thing when Kenny McCormick lights a fart and burns to death in South Park; it's a totally different vibe seeing an innocent-looking girl's head burst into flames after getting a huge dose of Silent But Deadly.

"F is for Fart" by Noboru Iguchi was not the most tasteless or disgusting segment of the film. It was not the segment that made me the most uncomfortable, either. The thing is, I was constantly shifting between being entertained and being turned off. A number of the shorts get rather extreme ("L is for Libido" and "Z is for Zetsumetsu (Extinction)" come to mind right away) and some of them are fine examples of subtlety ("G is for Gravity" and "U is for Unearthed," for example). The nature of the concept allows for these shifting dichotomies. The problem is that the shifts are so frequent, it gets confusing. Plus, each word is not revealed until the end of the segment. I found this disruptive, but I can see how some viewers may prefer it because it negates expectations. Instead of trying to anticipate the action based on the word, you must watch what happens and then wonder what word was chosen.

Going back to the Z segment, I think it's a cheat that foreign words were allowed. I love the diversity of the filmmakers and their backgrounds--many segments were not in English--but this seemed like a cheater's way to get some words into spots other than where they would have been if the English word had been used. Some unusual and obscure words were chosen ("V is for Vagitus," one of my favorite segments, used a Latinate word for "The Cry of a Newborn Baby"), which fine and one segment, "H is for Hydro-Electric Diffusion," cheated even more and used two words. I think I'm just going to have to let this go. At least we didn't get the predictable Vampires, Werewolves, Undead, Zombies, Electrocution, blah, blah, blah. If anything, The ABCs of Death is not predictable.

My favorite segment was "Q is for Quack" directed by Adam Wingard. Wingard has pieces in V/H/S and V/H/S 2, and helmed the upcoming and much hyped You're Next. I could quote all of the dialogue from this segment, but that would just get boring. Essentially, the short is about Wingard and co-writer Simon Barrett bitching about getting the letter Q for their segment, then discussing how having someone die in their film would make it stand out. Since they aren't total sadists, they decided that killing an animal would be more acceptable. Things don't go the way they plan. The segment is dark and funny at the same time. It also comes off as more memorable once the film gets to "W is for WTF?" which has a similar meta-fiction theme in which the filmmakers struggle with what their film should be.

THREAT LEVEL: YELLOW. I have to give The ABCs of Death a middling grade because some segments are awesome but there are plenty that I never want to see again. If I ever do watch this, it will be to see what I missed from A through E. 

One last thing: The ABCs of Death came from Magnet Releasing, which continues to be my favorite distributor going these days.

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