A Horrible Way To Die DVD Review
Directed by Adam Wingard
Written by Simon Barrett
2010, Region 2 (PAL), 83 minutes, Rated 18 (UK)
DVD released on 19 March 2012
AJ Bowen as Garrick Turrell
Amy Seimetz as Sarah
Joe Swanberg as Kevin
Brandon Carroll as Rusty
Lane Hughes as Reed
Its wonderfully evocative title will be irresistible to most horror fans, although I did momentarily confuse it with the Melissa George vehicle of vaguely similar name. A Horrible Way To Die is not about pretty young things dying up a mountain. Instead, it tells a story about addiction, depression and abusive relationships. Thanks to that title, it is quite distracting whenever the killer of the piece shows up; the temptation to rate every death in terms of horribleness diverting from the film itself.
A recovering alcoholic finds her attempt to conquer past demons thwarted with the arrival of a new lover and the escape of her serial killer ex-boyfriend from prison. If anything is likely to make one crave a JD on the rocks, it's the possibility of murder at the hands of your deranged ex. Sarah struggles on, facing such challenges as the disappearance of her best friend and the fact that her local restaurant decorates the place with empty wine bottles. Murderous escapee Garrick Turrell (a great serial killer name) looks like a cross between Zach Galifianakis and Kane Hodder. He never manages to be as intimidating or scary as the film wishes he was, but he's a fun villain nonetheless. Oddly compelling and creepy at the same time, AJ Bowen's performance is aided by a truly impressive beard and moustache, respectively. Occasionally though, his character veers too close to silly; his escape from prison (aided by just one loose bolt) is stupid, and the film's plot comes dangerously close to being a Sideshow Bob episode of The Simpsons. Parody is narrowly avoided, perhaps thanks to Garrick's relatively small role in the film.
Much of the emphasis is on Sarah and her burgeoning romance with fellow Anonymous Alcoholic Kevin. This makes for a slow ride, with less action and scares than some might have been lead to expect from the title. Like the two hesitant lovers, the story moves at its own pace. Garrick is busy in the background (incredibly, the police don't bother to let Sarah know that her lunatic lover has escaped from prison) but never so much that it distracts from the slightly mumblecore love story that the film wants to tell. But when it does kick into gear, it's very well done, and in a manner that few will expect.
As Laura, Amy Seimetz holds the film together. Her performance is strong and vulnerable at the same time. I just wanted to give her a hug. Alcoholic protagonists are as overdone as writers and novelists- but by spending so much time dealing with the mechanics of alcoholism (there are a lot of Alcoholics Anonymous meetings) the film largely bypasses that. Tonally, it's somewhere between indie thriller and downbeat drama. This aesthetic won't be to everyone's taste, especially during the more obvious bits of kitchen sink drama.
The story and writing are let down by the camerawork; as though its operator is suffering the effects of the booze that its characters desire so much. At times it feels like another Cloverfield — the constant sense of motion, complete with lens flares, unsubtle zooming in and out, and sudden cuts all combine to make the film an occasional headache to watch. It's a shame, since it's otherwise a well told tale.
A Horrible Way To Die is flawed and tonally inconsistent. But it does have an interesting story and a great villain (not always for the right reasons). None of the deaths in the film seem that horrible — but A Quite Unpleasant Way To Die doesn't really have the same ring to it.
Video and Audio:
The film's low budget is evident in the quality of the picture, but it lends the film an authentically nasty feel. The dizzying camerawork, whilst intentional, is distracting. The haunting, emotive score sounds great.