Directed by Adam Wingard
Distributed by Anchor Bay Entertainment
Anyone who has ever been in love knows trust is an essential ingredient to a healthy and happy relationship. But what happens when that trust is shattered and you discover that the person you’re in a committed relationship with turns out to be a vicious serial killer? How do you rebuild your life after you’ve been left emotionally shattered and your world is turned completely upside down by the fact that you could fall in love with a cold-blooded killer and not even know it?
Those are just some of the themes explored in director Adam Wingard’s latest project, A Horrible Way to Die, one of the most emotionally gut-wrenching and haunting horror films I’ve experienced so far in 2011. It made me want to go fetal, but I mean that completely as a compliment to the movie.
In A Horrible Way to Die we meet serial killer Garrick Turrell (Bowen) in the midst of his incarceration after he was discovered to be the madman behind a string of brutal slayings by none other than his unsuspecting girlfriend, Sarah (Seimetz). Once Sarah realizes that she’s been sharing her bed with a monster, she packs up and relocates in an effort to put Garrick and her alcoholic past behind her.
So while Sarah starts getting her act together – she joins Alcoholics Anonymous, gets a steady job as a dental hygienist and starts dating fellow AA member Kevin (Swanberg) – Garrick is keeping himself busy with breaking out of prison, continuing his killing spree and hunting down the woman he loves. Once Garrick locates Sarah, a series of events are set in motion that leaves both a small town shaken to its core and Sarah wondering whom she can really trust once she’s reunited with her notorious ex-flame.
I’m not overly familiar with director Adam Wingard’s previous work so wasn’t really too sure what to expect from A Horrible Way to Die before I sat down to check it out on Blu-ray. However, going in blindly was exactly what’s needed or perhaps I wouldn’t have had such a guttural experience to the film. It’s a rarity these days to watch a horror movie that shakes me to my emotional core (the last time may have been Monsters), but somehow Wingard and writer Simon Barrett (who penned the surprisingly good Dead Birds) managed to leave me a raw, emotional heap of a Horror Chick on my couch once the end credits were rolling.
In terms of indie casts, you don’t get any better than the talent Wingard has assembled for A Horrible Way to Die. Bowen, whom I will admit I know personally but actually has been a favorite of mine since his work in The Signal back in October 2007, once again delivers a charismatic psycho that you can’t help but like. All joking aside, what Bowen manages to do in this movie with his portrayal of guilt-ridden serial killer Garrick is nothing short of brilliant. There are times when Bowen isn’t uttering a single word in a shot; yet, he’s still able to masterfully pull you right into the mind of a serial killer and make you understand that while he doesn’t make excuses for who he is, Garrick just can’t suppress his homicidal tendencies no matter how badly he wants to.
As our fragile heroine Sarah, Seimetz delivers a harrowing and haunting performance in A Horrible Way to Die and has an incredible amount of chemistry with both Bowen and Swanberg that makes her a compelling to follow throughout her journey.
My only real issue with A Horrible Way to Die is the overuse of both shaky-cam and blurring transitions throughout the movie by filmmaker Wingard. I totally get that the use of a shaky camera is an effective tool in elevating certain thematic elements of the film, but I just have a sensitivity to seeing too much motion in a movie (I am one of the wusses that had to leave the theater the first time I saw Cloverfield so admittedly, I’m a little more sensitive than most), and the material here is strong enough to not have to rely on flashy tricks. But even though those filming approaches usually take me right out of my ability to enjoy a movie, the strength of the rest of the film far outweighed those two very minor weak points to A Horrible Way to Die.
Bonus features included on the Blu-ray release are a commentary track with director Wingard and writer Barrett on hand talking about their experiences in making A Horrible Way to Die, which is fascinating to listen to, especially if you’ve got an interest in indie horror filmmaking or storytelling. If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, you’ll probably want to give it a listen, too; there’s a lot to learn from these two on how to do indie filmmaking the right way.
The behind-the-scenes featurette is pretty standard for an indie genre film, but I would have liked to see just a little more meat to it – including interviews with Seimetz or the cinematographer for A Horrible Way to Die would have been cool to see. So what we do get are only get a few interview tidbits interwoven with some behind-the-scenes shots although we also see the set-ups for one of the more fun blood gags in the flick, which sort of makes up for the overall lack of bonus material.
Adam Wingard’s A Horrible Way to Die has set a new standard in the world of independent horror filmmaking. With a talented director at the helm, a brutally raw and mind-blowing story crafted by one of the best writers working in independent Hollywood today and a cast that oozes both a quiet intensity and a subversive wit, A Horrible Way to Die demonstrates that there is still hope for good storytelling in the horror genre yet.
4 out of 5
2 1/2 out of 5