(US - 2013)
AMER), giving each $5000 and complete artistic freedom to do what they want with their letter and make a four-to-five-minute short film that must culminate in death. As with any anthology, it's a wildly inconsistent mixed bag with several standouts and quite a few duds. There's a tendency toward transgression and almost-childish shock value--look no further than the fact that three of the 26 segments prominently feature a toilet, and another has a guy getting his face dunked in a diarrhea-filled bedpan--but there's a few surprising winners spread throughout, often from unexpected sources. The standout is probably "D is for Dogfight," by DEADGIRL co-director Marcel Sarmiento, a genuinely shocking, misanthropic piece about an underground fight club that pits man against dog (among the slobbering onlookers is a cheering toddler wearing just a diaper) with a surprising twist. "Q is for Quack" is a brilliantly-conceived meta piece where director Adam Wingard (A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE) plays himself, bitching about being picked last for the project ("even after Nacho Vigalondo," his buddy reminds him) and being stuck with the letter Q. "O is for Orgasm" is a color-drenched piece from AMER creators Helene Cattet & Bruno Forzani. Music video animator Lee Hardcastle's claymation "T is for Toilet" presents a truly horrific potty-training incident that avoids the scatological direction of the other toilet-centric stories. FRONTIER(S) director Xavier Gens' "X is for XXL" is a horrifying look at an obese woman who decides to take an electric carving knife to her body fat. "M is for Miscarriage" is the shortest of the segments at around two minutes, but it packs a sick and jaw-droppingly dark wallop and again proves that hipster would-be horror wunderkind Ti West (THE INNKEEPERS) is best when taken in small doses.
There's a lot of DOA material throughout--you can pretty much skip letters F-through-L (starting with Noboru Iguchi's useless "F is for Fart" up to Timi Tjahjanto's semen-drenched "L is for Libido"), and Simon Rumley's "P is for Pressure" is a real disappointment considering how great his extraordinarily unsettling RED, WHITE & BLUE was. ABCs stumbles to its conclusion with a pair of late-in-the-game low points with Joe Schnepp's "W is for WTF?" and Yoshihiro Nishimura's "Z is for Zetsumetsu," but the unlikely Jason Eisener (the terrible prefab cult movie HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN) gives the closing stretch a lift with the revenge tale "Y is for Youngbuck," which gets a hugely catchy soundtrack with "Vengeance" by the synth-rock outfit Powerglove. Other directors include Srdjan Spasojevic (A SERBIAN FILM), MAY star Angela Bettis, Ben Wheatley (KILL LIST), Andrew Traucki (THE REEF), and Jorge Michel Grau (WE ARE WHAT WE ARE). There's some good stuff in THE ABCs OF DEATH, but you have to get around a lot of shit--and other byproducts of the human body--to appreciate it. (Unrated, 129 mins)
(Brazil - 2012)
WASTED ON THE YOUNG
(Australia - 2011; 2013 US release)
Lucas' use of color (there's a very striking shot of Xandrie appearing at the top of a staircase that looks like it belongs in an Italian giallo), framing, and creative editing techniques (this mostly unfolds in a linear fashion, but there are some interesting instances of back-and-forth cross-cutting between past, present, and future) are very well-managed by the first-time filmmaker, who gets strong performances from his three leads, even if 31-year-old Ackland, whose perpetual five-o'clock shadow frequently makes him look like he should be Russell's stepfather rather than his younger stepbrother, is a decade too old for his role. Russell manages to make the cocky, smirking Zack truly hateful without resorting to cliches, and the promising Clemens (the Michelle Williams lookalike who's become a bit of a new scream queen with SILENT HILL: REVELATION and NO ONE LIVES) is very good as Xandrie. Sometimes the intentional unreality is distracting from a storytelling perspective (when Darren is caught downloading video files from the laptop of one of Zack's asshole buddies, Zack's blase non-reaction reeks of plot convenience), and the climax gets a little too tech-geeky and ham-fisted in its messaging of social media and the sense of disconnect, but overall, despite a couple of minor rookie mistakes, WASTED ON THE YOUNG is a solid debut from a filmmaker with obvious potential. (R, 97 mins, also available on Netflix streaming).