A.J. Bowen - Garrick Turrell
Amy Seimetz - Sarah
Joe Swanberg - Kevin
Brandon Carroll - Rusty
Lane Hughes - Reed
Genre - Horror/Thriller/Drama/Serial Killers
Running Time - 85 Minutes
A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE is really two stories that come together into one. The first plot involves a recovering alcoholic named Sarah (Amy Seimetz), who is dealing with some traumatic events that involved her former boyfriend, Garrick Turrell (A.J. Bowen) - a serial killer she helped put away. As she's coping with her sobriety and her past, she meets Kevin (Joe Swanberg), who takes a romantic interest in her.
While this is going on, we have a second plot involving Garrick's escape from prison. We learn of his previous murders, and how Sarah found out. Garrick is on the road, making his way back to Sarah while murdering more people to get there.
+ The storytelling in A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE is really well done. It's tough writing a single film narrative, let alone two at once. But the way the characters and the situations connect by the film's end makes it worthwhile. The film really allows the viewer to get to know these people through their actions and their feelings on certain situations, to the point where you're entranced by their stories and motivations.
The characters are the driving force of this film. Garrick is a serial killer, but we also see how normal and loving he is towards Sarah during their relationship. And the fact that he hides it from her shows he's somewhat ashamed of his actions, yet can't help but kill people. Sarah is still troubled by her actions in getting Garrick arrested, as well as foolishly dating a murderer - something that most likely drove her to alcoholism. She's afraid to move on in her life and trust people again. She's also worried after learning that Garrick has escaped, knowing he's most likely coming back for her. And Kevin, another alcoholic, tries to rebuild Sarah's trust by a friend she can relate to, and eventually her lover. Sarah wonders if Kevin is too good to be true, which may or may not be the case. Also, we have characters who are adoring fans of Garrick - people who wrote the man letters in prison and want to be just like him. A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE is really full of addictive personalities that lead them down dangerous paths. It makes the journey towards the end quite alluring, because we know the two plotlines will merge into one that's not going to be all sunshine and flowers.
Speaking of the ending, it's a pretty predictable one - but it makes sense and done very well. I won't spoil anything, but I was somewhat taken aback by it, as well as somewhat expecting the events to go down as they did. I'm glad it wasn't one of those twist, cheap endings that come out of the blue just to shock audiences. Yes, the paths of certain characters take a surprising turn in a way. But there were definitely subtle hints that made you aware of where the film was going to go. I thought the screenplay laid things out really well to tell a smart, interesting character driven tale.
+ The acting in A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE is great as well. A.J. Bowen, who has become a high profile independent horror actor the last few years, is really fantastic as serial killer Garrick Turrell. Without doing much, he conveys a sense of menace and a fear factor that's both subtle and forceful all at once. His personality is so engaging, it's hard at times to envision this man playing a serial killer. But just by the way he delivers dialogue, or through his body language, Bowen gives the character a deceptively creepy vibe. Amy Seimetz is also great in the role of Sarah. She has a vulnerability that's very appealing, playing an emotionally broken character who happens to involved in a really dangerous situation she didn't sign up for. Seimetz's quiet presence makes you sympathize with her right away. A character like this isn't easy to play. Either the actor/actress is understated, or way over-the-top. Seimetz maintains the right balance throughout, making her one to watch. And Joe Swanberg is good as Kevin, the nice guy that attempts to fix Sarah emotionally through his compassion and understanding. Just wonderful acting throughout this film. I totally believed these actors were the roles they were playing.
+ The direction by Adam Wingard, who made somewhat of a mark in 2013 with the release of YOU'RE NEXT, fits the story perfectly. The soft, bluish hues that tint A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE really give the film a bleak, depressing feel. The scenes of violence are done in a realistic, visceral way that grips you. The build up towards the eventual confrontation between Sarah and Garrick brings tension and suspense throughout the film. I even liked that many scenes were shot pretty tightly, creating a level of claustrophobia. It feels a bit invasive, as if you're an extra in the scene watching and listening to what's going on with the characters. The handheld style also adds to the effect, feeling as if you're there through it all. It's a film with style, but it never hits you in the face with it. The visuals compliment the script well, keeping your engaged visually as well as narrative wise.
- If I had any issue with A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, it's that I felt Wingard used the shaky cam effect a bit too much. Some of the quieter scenes should have felt more steady. Instead, I was distracted by the screen shaking all over the place. I'm not the biggest fan of this trend in terms of directing, but it does prove effective during certain moments where the shakiness reflects the emotions of the characters or situation on screen. But it shouldn't be a full occurrence in a film like this. A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE, while a horror-thriller, does play out as a drama at times. You shouldn't have the camera shake during dramatic moments where we should be focused on characters rather than the visuals. It didn't hurt the film all that much, but I was still annoyed by it.
THE FINAL HOWL
A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE is one of the better horror films I've seen in the 2010's so far. It has great characters, a fantastic narrative, nice direction, an appropriately bleak atmosphere, and actors who are wonderful in their respective roles. I wish there was less shaky cam involved, but it's not a total misstep. A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE is a great serial killer thriller and a great character driven drama. We need more smart and visceral films like this in the genre.