‘The ABCs of Death 2’
Directors: 30 of them
Stars: Simon Barratt, Beatrice Dalle
2 (out of 5) Globes
It sounded like a good idea: 2012’s “The ABCs of Death” rounded up a heaping pile of filmmakers to crank out 26 horror shorts, each corresponding to a letter of the alphabet. Which word and the content were up to them, long as they end result was short. And yet, even with two dozen-plus entries to go on, it couldn’t even score a medium-to-low batting average. Everybody but everybody whiffed, even Extreme luminaries like Ti West, Ben Wheatley, Xavier Gens, Simon Rumley and Nacho Vigalando. (That’s not true: Helene Cantet and Bruno Forzani, the color-obsessed retro stylists of “Amer,” did another eye-soothing light show.) And they didn’t just blow it: They were bottom-rung-at-the-gorefest-film-festival crap, reveling in casual sexism, bad CGI and jokes about farting lesbians.
All the unwanted sequel had to do to stand tall was have a couple decent ones. Surprisingly it goes more than that. Initially it seems like more of the same: The anthology hasn’t cracked the three minute mark before naked women play tonsil hockey. But even that proves, in its first entry, to be a self-reflexive joke: a fantasy had by a hitman who’s in reality less smooth than he is in his head. It could be a send-up of the first “ABCs,” which tended to do this without self-awareness, kowtowing to the lowest common denominator. Then comes an easy joke about egocentric television personalities that’s nevertheless well-executed and features the entire franchise-so-far’s best performance, courtesy “The Mighty Boosh”’s Julian Barratt (who also directed). Five minutes in and “2” is already better than all of one.
It’s still spotty, but apparent care, even ambition, even genuine cleverness from the international cast of horror-makers is at the ready. Hats off to Japan’s Hajime Ohata, who finds a legitimately original angle on the zombie genre. Ditto Spain’s Juan Martinez Moreno for one of the fest’s sole serious films, which milks tension from some expertly organized split-screen. Steven Kostowski giddily transports American kids into their favorite violent fantasy show, only to reveal it’s unimaginably bleak. France’s Alexandre Bustillo — of “Inside,” which surely holds the Guinness for screen blood, and from only a handful of bodies yet — holds back with his, and brings regular Beatrice Dalle over for good measure. The film’s committee even thinks outside the box, wrangling Bill Plympton for a toon reminiscent of Jan Svankmajer’s “Dimensions of Dialogue,” only thoroughly Plymptonized.
Still, even the best tend to be little but a joke awaiting a punchline, some funnier than others, some slight, some powerfully bombed. (Others, including ones by Larry Fessenden and “Room 237”’s Rodney Ascher, start off promising only to end in underwhelming shrugs.) And there’s still the obligatory misogyny: The “E” entry drags the package’s grade down to the pits, with a “bros before hos” fable taken to its illogical extreme. Frankly some miss even when vying for progressiveness, with bits about homophobia and even sexism coming off as easy and borderline condescending. (One of them — and one of the overall good ones — even trades in the old, tired, faintly offensive trick of revealing that so and so is actually, oh my god, gay.) The less said about the one that tackles the Palestine-Israel issue the better. Then again, this wouldn’t be an “ABCs of Death” round without at least the occasional ugly fit of stupidity. That’s the series’ brand.
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