DIRECTOR Adam Wingard WRITER Simon Barrett STARS AJ Bowen; Amy Seimetz; Joe Swanberg DVD & BLU-RAY Now
Expecting the kind of affair one would with such an exploitative title, A Horrible Way to Die is a surprise, which feels refreshing in a number of ways. Subtle, it has more depth than just another serial-killing film, emphasising character over the kill, the central two delivered via very good performance.
We open with a man seemingly in shock, in a car by the woods. This is a very smart introduction, establishing our murderer, Garrick Turrell (AJ Bowen), as human over monster. He apologises to his victim for having dozed off, then gently tells her to relax, as he proceeds to strangle her. (This momentarily calls to mind The Last Horror Movie (2003), albeit without the humour.) The immediate question is whether this is a willing murder on his part, or perhaps coercion. This is left hanging in the air as we snap to intro credits, then the film begins proper at an AA session, where we meet Sarah (Amy Seimetz). From here, it’s drip-feeding of plot, via flashback and non-linear narrative, as we pick up that Garrick is a notorious serial killer who has escaped prison, and that Sarah is his former girlfriend, her evidence having put him there.
It would have been very easy for this to be a straight cat-and-mouse thriller, Garrick a terribly angry sort, out for revenge and as much blood as possible. Instead, he’s a tortured soul, at times struggling with his compulsion to kill — no explanation for this is attempted — and Bowen is perfectly believable as his unusually considerate murderer. The real star here though is Seimetz, so natural as the shy and awkward Sarah, desperate to get on with her life, if only she can shake her alcoholism. When she is eventually tortured, there is a genuine fear for her, and her terror is refreshing in that it’s far from the guttural screams we are so accustomed to, that render such scenes cartoonish.
Saying all this, the film is certainly not perfect. There are some self-indulgent moments, for instance a repeat focusing on, and then out of, neon lights. I can think of no other reason for this than style, but this doesn’t complement what is an otherwise urban grittiness. The non-linear approach also begins to wear thin, the initial intrigue giving way to a little frustration as the story continually dances away with the cuts. The biggest criticism however is the twist of the finale, which can be seen coming from a mile off and is, frankly, ridiculous. One cannot help but ponder if Adam Wingard (director) and Simon Barrett (writer) simply didn’t know how to wrap up. Still, don’t let any of this put you off. As only feature attempt number three by Wingard, it is well worth watching if only to check on his progress, which, judging by A Horrible Way to Die, is sure to come along very nicely.