The anthology format -- multiple tales under an umbrella title -- is particularly good for the horror-thriller genre. Examples have ranged from the campy and creepy (Mario Bava's "Black Sabbath" of 1963) to the cerebral and campy (Todd Haynes' 1991 film "Poison") to the stylish and unnerving (2011's "The Theater Bizarre"). The gruesome and/or disturbing often work better in smaller, more intense doses, and viewers benefit either way: Whether the goings-on are terrifying or tiresome, nothing's going to last too long.
"Wild Tales," an Argentine omnibus of unease and Oscar nominee this year for foreign-language film, is not a standard horror collection -- the characters are all victims of their own uncontrolled rage, neglect or libidos, not some evil force or ghoul. It's also not a typical Oscar choice: The stories are far too earthy, although there's certainly a moral impulse running through all the stories -- one that cautions against self-indulgence, corruption and/or anger, even when a system is unjust. (Those who want to view "Wild Tales" against a backdrop of 20th century Argentine oppression are welcome to do so.) But the movie does reflect modern urban life in a way that, while warped, is certainly disquieting.
Should a demolition expert (Argentine star Ricardo Darin) take retribution against Buenos Aires' totalitarian parking system? Should a waitress (Julieta Zylberberg) serving the man who ruined her family (Cesar Bordon) put rat poison in his eggs and potatoes? Should a father (Oscar Martinez) try to get his son off a hit-and-run charge by paying his gardener (German de Silva) to take the rap? Probably not. But . . .
The most outrageous episode involves an incident of road rage that will give pause to anyone who's ever driven the LIE, but it has tough competition from the finale, the worst wedding reception in the history of matrimony, a bridezilla moment of biblical proportions. While there is a considerable amount of vicarious glee to be gotten from "Wild Tales," it will have audience members viewing their cars and meals -- and spouses -- a little more warily than they have before.