ABCs of Death 2 (2014)
Directed by A Lot of People
The first ABCs of Death received the sort of reaction you’d expect from an anthology film comprised of 26 shorts from 26 different filmmakers: “meh.” Some were good (Marcel Sarmiento’s “D is for Dogfight”), and some were bad (Ti West’s lazy “M is for Miscarriage”) so to walk away with anything more than a tepid reaction would be asking for a lot.
In the case of the sequel, however, the credo “learn by doing” was taken to heart with the majority of the shorts proving to be a wicked good time and far surpassing their predecessors.
Above all else, the film as a whole stands out for its wickedly funny, yet haunting intro credits scene: The sounds of a child’s lullaby permeate as a children’s book’s pages turn, revealing the credits as animated children succumb to death in darkly humorous ways. If anything, it helps to tame the preconceived notions one might have about the anthology, suggesting that a bit more thought and care went into making the experience unique, rather than a carbon copy of the first.
It would be a fool’s errand to discuss each and every film, especially in light of the fact that half the fun is discovering that gem in the rough. As such, if half your fun with the first film was derived from guessing the names of the shorts, then beware as spoilers abound in the following paragraphs.
The good far outweighs the bad in ABCs of Death 2. Right off the bat expectation are sent to insane levels with the humorous “A is for Amateur,” directed by Cheap Thrills helmer E. L. Katz and featuring an assassin doing what he does worst. Letter placement aside, it served as a good intro, if only for its clever naming convention. The best shorts typically use an idea or theme as a means of death, rather than an explicit item (either as a tool or as a factor). For example, Alejandro Brugues’ hilarious “E is for Equilibrium” follows a duo of marooned men on an island whose, well, equilibrium is interrupted by the arrival a young woman. They keep you guessing, adding another level of enjoyment to the anthology as a whole.
Conversely, others, such as Julian Barratt’s “B is for Badgers,” which aims for a send-up of David Attenborough’s nature shows, and Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo’s “X is for Xylophone,” which features Inside‘s Beatrice Dalle, are pretty obvious in their naming convention. From moment one you know exactly what the title is going to be, even if you hope for a bit of cleverness. Thankfully, more often than not the finished product is good enough to allow for this dismissal of naming creativity.
Other standouts among the pack include Larry Fessenden’s “N is for Nexus,” which sees a calamity befall a group of people at an intersection; Robert Morgan’s twisted claymation “D is for Deloused,” which is just… just gross and weird and filled with all sorts of nightmare-inducing madness; and Rodney Ascher’s deviously clever and funny “Q is for Questionnaire.”
The whole shebang is rounded out with Chris Nash’s twisted “Z is for Zygote,” which is sure to give future mothers horrible, horrible nightmares for years to come.
Conversely, there were plenty that elicited little more than a tired shrug, while one, Jen and Sylvia Soska’s “T is for Torture Porn,” just felt lazy and horribly pandering. Others, such as George Plympton’s “H is for Head Games” and Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen’s “L is for Legacy,” simply didn’t live up to the standard set by their superior brethren.
But such is the beauty of this anthology. While each short has its merits, they will invariably elicit a wide range of responses, and unlike the first film, the good far outweighs the bad. If you can’t catch it in the theater, watch it with a six-pack and a handful of good friends who relish in the absurd.