Drafthouse Films has one of what could be the most innovative and inspiring franchises on their hands when it comes to filmmaking. The original film created quite a stir in 2012, giving 26 separate directors a letter of the alphabet and free artistic control. What unfolded was one of the most twisted and interesting pieces of cinema that the world has seen for quite a long time.
The concept is simple for both films. Each director is given a letter. They must choose a word, and create a 5-minute short. They have full artistic control. Once all the pieces are finished, they are shown in alphabetical order in a creeping circuit, each depicting death in their own fascinating style. Think of it a 90-minute long film festival, that you can enjoy in the comfort of your own home.
The “ABC” series is rapidly becoming a touchstone for up-and-coming horror directors from around the globe, and this sequel is no different. With offerings from the Soska Sisters, Aharon Keshales and Chris Nash, it is easy to see in whose hands the future of film-making and horror is laid. And although it would be childish to think that every single one of the shorts would be everyone’s cup of tea across the board, “ABC’s of Death 2” is clearly more solid than its predecessor.
Whereas with the first “ABC,” there were extreme highs matched with extreme lows. In “ABC2,” there is still that ebb and flow but it is not as drastic, and rather than feeling like a ship in a storm you feel like you are in more of a high and low tide. Whereas any movie has such a necessity, it becomes much more noticeable when you have a string of pieces that are each telling a different story with absolutely no relation to anything else presented around it. That being said, I hand-picked a few of my personal favorites with hopes you will watch this yourself, and make your own “best” lists.
I was going to try and keep it to five, but had to throw in one more due to indecision. These ranged from the entertaining to the unsettling, and all of them are guaranteed to fascinate. Just to mix it up, let’s go in alphabetical order…by director. Bah-buh-BUH!
“Q is for Questionairre,” is directed by Rodney Ascher, who clearly lives in California. His short is every Angeleno’s nightmare – What happens if you pass one of those “free tests” the smiling people on the sidewalk have you take? Everyone is a little wary of Scientologists and their free personality tests, the reactions gauging from the mildly creeped to the staunch protestors. I’m certain we’ve all wondered what lays behind those Tom Cruise-encrusted doors, where everyone seems to come out happy, but no one says why. Conspiracy theories abound, but Ascher’s “Questionairre” is asking what we are all asking. What hides behind a suit and a smile?
One of the few shorts that lightened the impact was “M is for Masticate,” featuring everyone’s favorite zombie-inducing mania drug, bath salts. Robert Boocheck takes the latest in crazy, toxic concoctions to a more enjoyable platform, giving you a little levity in the onslaught of graphic and disturbing fare. His less serious approach to death shows a facet that tends to be forgotten when dealing with deaths on film, that being that it’s ok to think death absurd. Have you heard of the Darwin Awards? Death is never something to laugh at, but sometimes the person involved walks into their own fate. It’s their own fault that they slip on a banana peel in the process. Definitely a welcome palate cleanser in this marathon.
From the light-hearted to the political, we have what is probably the most impactful of all 26 shorts, “F is for Falling.” Directed by Aharon Keshales and Navot Papushado, this short takes a stance on not only the perception of good and evil, but does so with stark, real-life commentary. Set in the war-torn middle east, the pair take the common “Meet Cute” film trope to a weighty place, having a young Palestinian man come across an Israeli soldier as she is caught in a tree. What unfolds in the next few minutes is a tale of humanity and survival that has a solid place in “ABC2” as well as a Kathryn Bigelow film. That, combined with its comparisons of Adam and Eve fighting temptation in the garden of Eden leaves “Falling” as the most brilliant and elegant pieces of the film, no contest.
It’s a hard thing to end such a list of varied and inspired pieces. There is a lot riding on the overall decision the audience will make once the credits roll in the last moments of any movie. How can you ask a filmmaker to button up such an eclectic string of films in only five minutes of time? Chris Nash delivers a unique and lasting impression with “Z is for Zygote,” the last in the series of films featured in “ABC’s of Death 2.” Abandonment, protection, fear and love are all prevalent, and the images are beyond horrifying as well as something that I cannot recall having seen to date. The presentation of the mother and child bond is presented both intensely and tenderly, its metaphors regarding love and sacrifice for one’s children something you will not soon be able to rid yourself of. By far a pretty pitch perfect ending to such a chaotic ninety minutes.
Being a huge fan of Japanese horror culture, I think what I was looking forward to the most with this film was what we would be seeing from the Asian contingent. I was not disappointed, the standout piece being “O is for Ochlocracy,” by Hajime Ohata. Ochlocracy means mob rule, the government being run by those in the majority at that given moment. This takes the stance of wondering what would the consequences be if those killed in a zombie outbreak were capable of organizing, and going about a more refined route of vengeance. Would it be a vicious circle? Where would it end? Are the sacrifices you are making the only option? How many of people’s choices are reactionary or prejudiced, instead of being led by true clarity of the situation at hand? In a day and age when people are prone more and more to violent, reactionary tactics this is definitely a short film that hit home, and hard. That, combined with it’s graceful blend of humor and gravity makes “Ochlocracy” some real food for though.
The Twisted Twins Jen and Sylvia Soska are definitely making female directors in the horror industry known, and they are not pulling punches. And their piece, entitled “T is for Torture Porn,” comes at you with claws out. I made it a point not to look at directors after each piece the first time I watched this, not wanting to be biased towards one name to another. Frankly, I wasn’t surprised the one that spoke to me the most was not only one about torture porn, which I feel very strongly about, but was the one by the Soska Sisters. I’m not too militant of a feminist, but the film industry especially in the horror genre is weighted heavily on the side of males, both in directors chairs and what is put onscreen. There were only two female directors in “The ABC’s of Death,” Angela Bettis and Hélène Cattet, and there was only one more woman besides the Soskas in the sequel – Kristina Buozyte. What “T is for Torture Porn” covers not only the popular sub-genre of the same name, but the objectification of women in horror. Definitely a swift lesson in what ladies are capable of in the horror world, and why you should keep an eye on the Soskas especially.
“The ABC’s of Death 2” is available on VOD, and will be in select theaters October 31st. For more information, please visit http://www.magnetreleasing.com/theabcsofdeath2/.