Despite my criticisms of the directing techniques employed for the film, A Horrible Way to Die is actually not that bad of a film. It is not exactly what I expected, which is a good thing, but it also lacks a certain momentum and is a bit slow to develop and maintain. The acting, mainly by relative unknowns, are all very good and the story itself, when you strip away the unnecessary cutting back and forth in time, is also well done.
Genre(s): Drama, Suspense
Anchor Bay | R – 87 min. – $34.98 | September 6, 2011
Directed by: Adam Wingaro
Writer(s): Simon Barrett
Cast: AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz, Joe Swanberg, Brandon Carroll, Lane Hughes
Features: Commentary, Featurette
Number of Discs: 1
Audio: English (Dolby TrueHD 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 1.78
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
THE MOVIE – 2.75/5
In Adam Wingaro’s drama, A Horrible Way to Die opens in a well shot but familiar fashion in what I thought would be yet another cheap torture porn movie. In fact, if you look at the cover above, you would think it was a horror movie. Instead, it’s a fairly introspective drama centered more on alcoholism than dead bodies, a refreshing factor. That being said, how it all unfolds and the style of direction both negated any positives this film might have had.
The movie opens with what looks like a clean-cut man (AJ BOWEN) waking up from a nap in the driver’s seat of his car. He gets out and we see he’s in the middle of the forest where he opens the trunk and we find a petrified woman bound and gagged. It’s at this point where I silently groaned thinking I’m in for a hurt for the remaining 85-minutes as the man takes gingerly gets her out, marches her to a clearing where he tries to calm her nerves before finally strangling her to death.
What follows are jump cuts, flash backs and flash forwards that probably would drive the writers of “Lost” insane, we meet recovering alcoholic Sarah (AMY SEIMETZ) and, via flashbacks, quickly learn she is the former girlfriend of the serial killer we met earlier named Garrick Turrell. We also learn Garrick has escaped from prison and is on the run, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake, though as far as I can tell, never linked to any of them… In any case, Sarah is understandably not exactly looking for a new relationship but decides to accept a lunch date with fellow AA attendee Kevin (JOE SWANBERG) and soon their romance begins to bud. Of course, the dark figure that is Garrick begins to loom.
A Horrible Way to Die is an interesting film to say the least. As I said before, you wouldn’t know it based on the cover, but it’s very much a psychological suspense film than one of those wretched torture porn flicks that gets unleashed upon the home video market several times a year. Instead, the filmmakers’ try to get more personal with a serial killer and the person who cares about them. And all of that would well and good, and in fact AJ Bowen who plays the killer is quite good, but the way the film is directed just is a big turn off and makes what is only an 85-minute movie feel so much longer… and not in a good way. Another element I disliked was how they decided to cut back and forth in time. I get that they wanted to make the film unique but it didn’t do the story any favors and I’d venture to say it would’ve made for a better picture if it were told more linearly (save for the opening hook).
How director Adam Wingard and his DPs Chris Hilleke and Mark Shelhorse approached the look of the film with zoom ins, out of focus shots and heavy use of shaky cam, so much that anyone who hasn’t like Paul Greengrass’s work on the Bourne movies will downright be seasick by the time this movie is over. I understand what Wingard and company was trying to accomplish, giving the film a certain grittiness and a realistic, almost documentarian, tone and thus making it feel as if it could happen. But instead, I feel the choices only took away from the story, something that could’ve been avoided by going with the tried and true locked down shots and letting the performances speak.
In terms of those performances, for what is relatively an unknown cast of actors, I thought they did pretty darn good. Obviously leading the way is AJ Bowen who gives a very quiet yet still intense portrayal of a serial killer but one cannot overlook Amy Seimetz who has the film’s arc living with the memory of a man she discovers is a killer (and turning him in no less) to trying to move on and start up a new life. I won’t say it’s a profound performance but it’s still surprising none the less.
A Horrible Way to Die was written by Simon Barrett whose credits include a few shorts and other indie flicks including one of those absurd cross-breed horror movies, mostly made for the SyFy Channel, called Frankenfish. For this film, the actual plot is fairly routine however it’s the dialogue and character development that excels and if not for the editing, could’ve shined even more so.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 1.75/5
Audio Commentary – Director/Editor Adam Wingard and Writer/Producer Simon Barrett provide an informative yet still lively commentary touching on aspects of the filmmaking process, shooting at certain locations and elements of the script. For what I assume are rookies in recording commentaries, I was impressed.
Behind the Scenes of A Horrible Way to Die (7:13; HD) – This is a very basic featurette showing some BTS footage. Given its only 7-minutes, there’s not a heck of a lot to learn about the movie anyway.
Previews – Bereavement, Super Hybrid
VIDEO – 3.5/5
A Horrible Way to Die stalks and kills its way onto Blu-ray with a decent if not average looking high-def transfer. The film is presented with a 1.78 widescreen aspect ratio and mostly is a tad blotchy with over or under saturation depending on what the scene calls for (and no doubt the director’s intentions). So I can’t say this is a bad transfer but more to do with a cheaper film. Even so, the darker scenes at least look OK with only minor amounts of pixilation while detail level, when the camera would actually stay still, is respectable enough.
AUDIO – 4.0/5
The disc features a good Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which especially gets roaring with blood-curdling screams near the end as well as a robust bass that picks up at opportune times of suspense. I’m not going to say it’s a great lossless track but certainly better than others within the indie film realm.
OVERALL – 2.5/5
Despite my criticisms of the directing techniques employed for the film, A Horrible Way to Die is actually not that bad of a film. It is not exactly what I expected, which is a good thing, but it also lacks a certain momentum and is a bit slow to develop and maintain. The acting, mainly by relative unknowns, are all very good and the story itself, when you strip away the unnecessary cutting back and forth in time, is also well done. In the case of the Blu-ray, the video isn’t all that impressive but the audio mostly delivers and the commentary is one of the better tracks I’ve heard in some time.
Brian Oliver, The Movieman
Check out some more screen caps by going to page 2.