Toronto After Dark Film Festival 2014: The ABC's of Death 2 Review!

With the anthology horror film having experienced a bit of a renaissance with the V/H/S films (now on its third installment), it’s not any coincidence that directors/curators Ant Timpson and Tim League have gone back to the well for a second iteration of their popular ABC’s Of Death anthology. It allows for a titanic slate of popular directors to showcase their work in one place, and in many ways speaks to an audience that has grown up with things like YouTube and Chatroulette, where tiny bursts of entertainment can be consumed and discarded with little consideration for long-term retention.

The major flaw, and in my opinion it is major, with ABC’s Of Death 2 is its sprawling, ill-conceived premise. As appealing as the idea of 26 horror shorts sounds (to a horror geek like me), it simply doesn’t make for a pleasant traditional movie experience simply due to its gigantic size. With no connecting theme for the shorts (beyond the trite ‘letter of the alphabet’ conceit), it reduces almost all of the works to either one-note jokes or incomprehensibly banal gross-out scenes.

This makes me wonder exactly who or what situation this anthology is for. Sitting in a theatre and watching the pieces unfold at a clip, there’s almost no way you can retain all 26 shorts after the credits roll. Traditional anthologies cap off at around four to five shorts, which seems to be the sweet spot in terms of balancing a varied slate of ideas and direction with enough length for each film (and the viewer) to breathe. It seems to me that the best way to consume the ABC’s films is to watch them either at home, with the benefit of a pause button so you can watch a few segments at a time, or have them running in the background of your Halloween party where guests can drift in and out. Long attention spans are not welcome here.

All of this is not to say that ABC’s 2 is absent of quality. There’s some outstanding talent here and their submitted segments truly make you want more time than they’re given. The Soska Twins (American Mary, See No Evil 2) turn in the gleefully grotesque T is For Torture Porn which skillfully upends the Hollywood casting couch trope, and the crown jewel of the anthology is X is For Xylophone by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo (Inside, Livid) which is a moody, haunting little piece. Vincenzo Natali (Cube, Splice)’s U is For Utopia and Steven Kostanski (Manborg, Father’s Day)’s W is For Wish are also major standouts.

Again, though, the problem with ABC’s 2 is that the pieces I’ve named make up less than a fifth of the shorts on offer, and are not only buried by worse segments but are also backloaded towards the end of the film when almost any viewer will be burnt out. Other anthologies are not hamstrung by the need to have 26 films, many of which are terrible jokes (Alejandro Brugues’ E is For Equilibrium is little more than an unfunny ‘women, am I right?’ flop) fly by the audience over the course of two hours and they are better for it.

While I realize that the alphabet concept is the hook for ABC’s of Death 2, I wish that Timpson and League had, perhaps, chosen a word to spell out with the short films to curb the sheer number of stories that are thrown at you. It’d certainly prevent the overall piece from becoming Tired, Emotionless, Direction-free, Ill-conceived, Overwrought, Underwhelming, and Silly.


Check out Toronto After Dark's schedule, ticket info, and more here.

This piece was written by Sachin Hingoo, a freelance writer when he is not working at an office job that is purpose-built for paying the bills while he works as a freelance writer. His writing has appeared on, the CBC Street Level Blog,, and The Midnight Madness Blog for the Toronto International Film Festival. He has also been featured at Toronto lecture series Trampoline Hall (which is rumored to be excellent). His mutant power is 'feigning interest'. You can read all of his posts here.


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