Directors such as Jason Eisener, Ti West, Ben Wheatley and Adam Wingard have all got involved in the project, as each filmmaker was seemingly given a letter at random, outlining the task of creating a short movie based on the subject of death using their selected letter as a key theme and title. With much creative scope and the chance for this eclectic range of directors to do something artistically original and innovative, and given the dark and disturbing nature to this picture, this certainly has the potential to be an entertaining piece of cinema. Potential, however, unfulfilled.
The finest segments on show are that of “Dogfight” by Marcel Sarmiento, “Jidai-geki” by Yudai Yamaguchi, “Quack” by Wingard, “Toilet” by Lee Hardcastle, and of course “Fart” by Noboru Iguchi, the latter certainly the stand-out piece, though whether that is for the right reasons is besides the point. In fact, all of the Japanese segments are worth seeing, as they are stark raving bonkers. In the meantime, if you need to go to the loo at any point, my advice is to go when “Libido” kicks in, and be sure to prolong your trip, because “Miscarriage” by Ti West is the very worst offering of them all, whilst Wheatley’s effort “Unearthed” is immensely disappointing.
The key issues with the segments are not the quality of movie as such, but the stories told. On the whole they are weak and insignificant, and due to the fact the filmmakers have so little time and such a modest budget to impress, they opt for shock value, hoping that distasteful gore or a naked lady (or both) will suffice and thus make it memorable, yet it doesn’t. Many of these segments are just disturbing, and not in a good way. The best segments are those that tell relatively rounded stories; that’s where the talent is.
In defence of the directors who have taken part in this project, it’s no easy task to tell a strong story in so little time, which begs the question, why bother in the first place? This may be a somewhat unique idea, but it would work so much better had it been on YouTube for example, as a series of short movies, one released every day over a month perhaps? It just doesn’t quite have the gravitas nor talent attached to warrant becoming a feature length movie.
It is, however, quite nice to know where you stand – as we follow the alphabet chronologically, it provides the audience with the chance to work out how much longer is left, which saves on clock-watching. That said, it’s also a rather depressing parameter of how much longer we have to endure this film. Once you get to the letter ‘G’ and you realise you’re not even halfway there yet, it makes for a rather foreboding sensation. On the plus side, it is fun to play the “what’s the word going to be?” guessing game, as we aren’t told the name of each segment until it’s over: a very pleasant distraction wondering what it may be.
The ABCs of Death is always going to be a film that receives much negative responses, as out of 26 combined movies it is inevitable that there will be a handful of terrible ones, and sadly they linger far longer in the memory than the relatively decent ones. A is for avoid. Avoid at all costs.