Truthfully speaking, I was not a fan of the original ABCs of Death. While I enjoy short films in general, the anthology format has always made me a bit leery. Navigating the minefield of hits and misses can be a tricky endeavour. Of the buffet of 26 titles that comprised the first film, only five or so really knocked my socks off. The majority of the remaining vingettes made me wish that I dined at another restaurant all together.
The main issue I had with the original film was that it felt more like a long game of one-upmanship amongst the directors. Which I guess is to be expected when 26 directors are each given a letter of the alphabet and told to make a short where someone dies. Still, the desire to be crowned the most outrageous was evident in many of the films. ABCs of Death 2, thankfully, avoids many of the missteps found in its predecessor.
This time around there is a clear emphasis on innovative storytelling rather than mere blood and gore. There is a thrilling sense of creative energy flowing throughout the film. It is as if the series shook off the opening night jitters and finally settled into a comfortable groove. Gone, for the most part, are the gimmicks for gimmick sake. Replaced by shorts that are humorous, chilling, disturbing, and even, dare I say, touching.
Several of the best shorts in ABCs of Death 2 are fully realized tales. One of the highlights for me was Hajime Ohata’s “O is for Ochlocracy”, which translated means “Mob Rule”, easily one of the most original zombie films to be made in quite some time. Ohata’s takes one of the most essential elements of the zombie genre and brilliantly places it in the confines of a court procedural. Julian Gilbey’s “C is for Capital Punishment” is a dark, and amusing, cautionary tale about the dangers of vigilante justice. Taking a less is more approach is Kristina Buozyte and Bruno Samper’s engaging science fiction horror “K is for Knell”. The visually stunning, and dialogue-free story, follows a mysterious substance that turns the inhabitants of an apartment building into deranged killers.
Not all the memorable films are serious in tone mind you. The 1980s kids shows/toy commercials homage “W is for Wish” from director Steven Kostanski is visual treat that will bring a warm twisted smile to the faces of those who grew up watching He-man and such. In “A is for Amateur” Evan Katz uses dark humour to show that the life of a hit-man is not as slick as it may seem. Bill Plympton’s aptly titled “H is for Head Games” is a wonderfully quirky look at how a simple kiss can turn deadly. Rodney Ascher’s “Q is for Questionnaire” takes a seemingly harmless IQ quiz and deliciously shows the ramifications of being too smart. “T is for Torture Porn” by Jen and Sylvia Soska, better known as the Twisted Twins, turns the misogynistic nature of porn upside down with its humorously feminist slant on who truly holds the power within the sex industry. While the slow-motion treat “M is for Masticate” by Robert Boocheck may be the Rick James “cocaine is a hell of a drug” PSAs of the year.
With all the hilarious and eerie carnage on display, it is a bit surprising to find a film within the anthology that is genuinely moving. Directors Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado’s, who made last year’s Tarantino endorsed thriller Big Bad Wolves, entry “F is for Falling” is a poignant examination of war. The story’s premise is simple, a female soldier stuck in a tree is discovered by a young man from the other side, but the film’s overall execution resonates long after the short is over.
This is not to say that there are not a few films that miss the mark. Jim Hoskin’s “G is for Grandad” and Todd Rohal’s “P is for P-P-P-P-Scary!” immediately jump to mind as concepts that must have sounded better in the planning stages. Still the number of vignette’s that truly falter can be counted on one hand. Filled with some truly creative shorts, that cover a wide range of genres, ABCs of Death 2 is a surprisingly entertaining addition that proves it has more than enough life…er…death left to sustain the series.
Tonight, 9:30 PM, Scotiabank Theatre