There are certain expectations that came to mind when I sat down to watch A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE. One is just a plain and simple stalk and slash movie and the other based on the title is brutal wall to wall gore. Apparently I need to start checking my own expectations at the door because while the movie is about a killer and it has moments of brutal gore it is by no means as generic as I expected, the gore is not nonstop and it’s much slower and moodier than I ever could have predicted.
A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE takes two stories that slowly inch closer and closer to intersecting. The first story is that of Sarah (Amy Seimetz), a recovering alcoholic that is fresh off an extremely unhealthy relationship that causes her to be somewhat cautious and withdrawn but starts warming up to a fellow AA member, Kevin (Joe Swanberg). The second story is that of Sarah’s ex-boyfriend, Garrick (AJ Bowen) who has just escaped from prison. It becomes clear right of the bat that Garrick is psychotic and that he was in prison for a series of brutal murders which he gets right back to once he’s escaped. Garrick’s side of the story is that of a road trip that is presumably leading toward Sarah’s direction while Sarah’s story is that of a blooming relationship as well as mentally coping with her relationship with Garrick and his escape.
The film is an exercise is extreme patience and mounting tension. It takes an extremely patient viewer to stay with this movie and enjoy it as much as I did. The horror slowly builds and is not quite as in your face as most gene efforts but there are moments of horrific violence for the gorehounds to chew on. The rest of the movie focuses on mood alone- especially on Sarah’s side of the story because while she is an interesting character her story isn’t near as compelling as Garrick’s. Even when we see Garrick the film does a great job at giving him great character moments where we can surprisingly sympathize with such a murderous monster. The sympathy comes at several moments that he wishes he could keep from doing these horrible things but is overcome by an overwhelming blood lust which somewhat coincides with Sarah’s struggle with alcohol- albeit Garrick’s addiction is far more disturbing.
A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE while far from being something I would tell anyone to rush out and see would be far less so if not for the terrific performances, especially by AJ Bowen. Bowen brings to life a disturbingly plausible murderer- one that feels guilt and frustration with his inability to retrain himself from killing almost everyone that crosses his path. For quite some time most of his performance is done silently while the camera stays in for close-ups so we can watch him emote rather than bark out a lot of dialogue. It also helps that Bowen has an intimidating physical presence- not to mention he rocks a perfect police mustache through most of the film.
A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE is not without its shortcomings. Some of the cinematography is quite good but there is quite a bit of shaky cam used during some attack scenes and even just plain dialogue scenes. The timeline of the film does become a bit screws as there were jumps of Bowen sporting his cop-stache after he’d shaved and then the next scene he’d have a full lumberjack beard. The film is exceedingly patient (slow in other words), so while it was not an issue for me I know there are audiences that will not appreciate the slow build.
A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE thrives on building tension the chilling performance by AJ Bowen. There are some moments of brutal violence and disturbing visuals but they serve only to enhance the overall mood of the film which is extremely dark. Director Adam Wingard presents an extremely intimate story between two people and the widespread consequences of their relationship and if you can stay with it till the end the payoff is great even if it may not make you “feel” good about where it goes. A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE is not for everyone, but I think the title serves to make that point pretty obvious.