'The ABCs of Death' is dead boring
Kate Erbland, Special to MSN Movies
Despite an opening title sequence that literally spills over with a flood of blood, "The ABCs of Death," the bloated new anthology film from niche producers Drafthouse Films, isn't necessarily the gutsy horror outing it should be. While any film that includes no less than 26 shorts (one for every letter of the alphabet!) crafted by different writers and directors can't help but feel uneven -- anything that has so many metaphorical cooks in the kitchen will, simply by its very nature -- "The ABCs of Death" disappoints because its many talents can't even lobby around its single unifying theme in a satisfying way. Unlike other new anthology films, like "VHS" and its recent sequel, the film's wrap-around link (its alphabetic storybook design scheme) barely offers even cursory cohesion, and the film just feels like what it is: 26 very different films shown in order.
Organized by letter, the theme of "The ABCs of Death" is, well, death -- but that doesn't mean that the film is all guts and gore. The film is instead peppered with comedic shorts, animated sections, even segments that hedge more to the side of pure drama or sci-fi, and while so much variety should be a good thing, at over two hours in length, "The ABCs of Death" wears out its welcome early (too bad, then, that some of the film's best sections come in its final third). It's an uneasy mix of new work: The sections that are more traditionally horror-centric prove to be far better and much more welcome, while the ones that attempt humor or wackiness often fall with a massive thud.
However, like many anthology films of its ilk, "The ABCs of Death" does serve as a fertile ground for discovering new talent (like Jorge Michel Grau and actress-turned-filmmaker Angela Bettis) and enjoying new material from rising stars (like Nacho Vigalondo, Ben Wheatley and Adam Wingard). With such a wide pool of talent and so many different themes and plots covered, "The ABCs of Death" unquestionably has something to offer for every horror fan (even as they snooze through the film's tamer segments).
The stand-out sections of the film include Vigalondo's lead-off, "A Is for Apocalypse," the only truly horrifying offering of the bunch, along with Ernesto Diaz Espinoza's mind-bending "C Is for Cycle," Bettis' darkly funny "E Is for Exterminate," Grau's stylistically haunting "I Is for Ingrown," Anders Morgenthaler's fabulously funny and weird "K Is for Klutz," Wingard's tongue-in-beak "Q Is for Quack" and Wheatley's charged "U Is for Unearthed." Most everything else in "The ABCs of Death" simply serves as filler between those strongest sections, making an ambitious outing frequently feel just dead boring.
Kate Erbland is a contributing writer for MSN Movies, a critic for Boxoffice magazine and an associate editor for Film School Rejects. She has been writing about movies since 2008, but has been thinking about movies for far longer. She lives in Los Angeles.