Fantastic Fest 2010: A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE Review

     October 3, 2010


Adam Wingard’s A Horrible Way To Die might be a horrible way to spend 85 minutes if you can’t get past the shaky cam experience of feeling intoxicated, which is a shame because the story is quite intriguing. When you play on themes of addiction, in this case to murder and alcohol, you can strike a balance of the evils that people try to deal with day to day. While we may not all have a killer within us, we all have our flaws and guilty pleasures to overcome. So hit the jump for my full review of this rocky journey that will have you talking about the themes long after the film has finished.

a_horrible_way_to_die_posterWe begin with the introduction of our murderer, Garrick Turrell (AJ Bowen), who attempts to live an ordinary life with his girlfriend Sarah (Amy Seimetz) while also delving in his insidious addiction to kill. Needless to say, she finds out and turns him in, as any normal person would. Relocated and trying to recover from her own addiction to alcohol, Sarah fears for her life when her ex-boyfriend escapes from prison and leaves a rash of murders in his wake as he makes a b-line for her. Will she eventually find hope and redemption, or will her murderous ex take revenge for her actions?

While the plot seems fairly standard, the non-linear style it is told in helps keep things interesting, if only for the simple fact that it can sometimes lose you. The very beginning of the film seems to be completely out of place and comes without any explanation. Then there are a number of flashbacks, which might lose you as well if they weren’t cleverly aided by Bowen’s different states of facial hair across the timeline. Focus on the beard, and you will be able to stay on point.

The biggest problem I have with A Horrible Way To Die is the camerawork. I would like to think I am accepting of new and different ideas, but I simply couldn’t get on board with the goal of the cinematographer here. I have no issues with the shaky cam aesthetic of films like the Bourne series or the various “found-footage” movies out there. However, this isn’t shot like an over-the-shoulder realistic view embodying the tension in the room. Instead, the shots seem determined to keep the actors moving in and out of frame, as it weebles and wobbles but never falls down. The aesthetic is supposed to represent the hazy recollection of Sarah’s memories, but sometimes ideas are better on paper. The real shame is that Seimetz and Bowen turn in exemplary performances that are a struggle to focus on.

a_horrible_way_to_die_image_01Additionally, while the themes at play are incredibly intriguing and should foster discussion, there is a disconnect from the story and the characters. Perhaps the drunken camerawork had lingering effects, but if the film is meant to bring large ideas to the surface, consider that aspect a success. Then we have the actual twist to the whole story, which is one of the most redeeming parts of the film and will create many excited whispers during the final 10 minutes.

Ultimately, the themes and story at play in A Horrible Way To Die give this film a lot of depth and intrigue, but the tipsy camerawork and the resulting disconnect hurt the end result. I can’t wait to see the film remade with a tripod so I can heartily recommend the film to a larger audience. As it stands, if you aren’t afraid of some interesting (or maddening) camerawork and are looking for a twist to the serial killer in a thriller genre, this has enough to warrant a look.

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