HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE
an effective opening with a young woman, trussed up in a car trunk,
being driven out to a remote spot, calmed down by her abductor
and then brutally strangled, A Horrible Way To Die
settles into a gloomy variation on the familiar serial-killer-as-ordinary-Joe
Sarah (Amy Seimetz) is a recovering alcoholic whose ex-boyfriend
Garrick Turrell (A.J. Bowen) is serving a lengthy prison sentence
for a string of murders. Attempting to start life anew, she embarks
on a tentative relationship with Kevin (Joe Swanberg), a fellow
addict she has met at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Meantime
Garrick escapes police custody while being transported in a prison
van and leaves a string of corpses behind him as he makes his
way towards a reunion with Sarah, who was responsible for his
capture and subsequent incarceration.
On one level the film seems to be about the perils of addiction
– Garrick's to murder, Sarah's to booze – and how
it can lead to places we would rather not venture. The emphasis
is squarely on the characters and their two distinct story strands:
Sarah's road to recovery and her mundane job at a dental surgery,
Garrick's escape and reversion to old habits (most of the killings
take place offscreen) and how the threads weave themselves together.
Unfortunately, director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett
adopt a dislocated, ultimately incoherent approach which turns
the viewer away from the story rather than drawing them into it.
The narrative meanders when it should be more focused, the dialogue
is astonishingly banal and the characters and situations dull
instead of interesting. Bowen and Seimetz do their best but they
are finally defeated by the material in front of them.
Worse still is Wingard's directing style. A shaky, hand-held camera
is dominant throughout the film, shots are sometimes misframed
and waver in and out of focus, sometimes focusing on nothing in
particular (the backs of people's heads, trees in the distance),
at other moments the lighting is too dark and at others the pace
becomes too sluggish to hold the attention. It's difficult to
discern an aesthetic reason for such technical ineptitude because
the effect works completely against the film and makes for irritating
rather than uncomfortable viewing.
Finally, with a quarter of an hour to spare there's an out-of-left-field
plot twist that almost compensates for the tedium of the previous
seventy minutes. However, by that time you'll be past the point
of caring, which is a pity as there was enough potential here
for an interesting character-driven horror film.
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