Sometimes it kills me how people are usually so divided in their opinions on movies like this. When you see something that to you is obviously so beautiful and engaging, you wonder if everyone missed something or if you were looking too much into it. Oh well. I loved A Horrible Way to Die! It reminded me a lot of the film Red White and Blue, so if you liked that movie (or if you even saw it, because I don't think many people did), you'll definitely like A Horrible Way to Die as well.
Convicted serial killer Garrick Turrell has escaped from prison and is in pursuit of his ex-girlfriend Sarah, who has moved to another town. At the same time, Sarah is reluctantly pursuing a new relationship with Kevin, a man she met in AA.
Okay, the first thing I have to comment on is the fact that this movie was shot in Columbia, Missouri which is about 40 minutes from where I am sitting right now! Columbia is writer Simon Barrett's hometown so I guess he convinced the director, Adam Wingard, whom he's worked with on several projects, that'd this be the perfect place for a story of stalking and murder. Anyway, this information is awesome because movies are so rarely filmed (or at least filmed entirely) in my home state. It's probably a fairly cheap place and easily accessible place to make movies so I don't understand why more filmmakers don't come here. I didn't recognize any of the locations in the movie so they must have gone to parts of Columbia I've never been before.
Anyway. A Horrible Way to Die has a unique visual style, and it seems to be people's main complaint when they speak against it. The whole movie is shot handheld with mostly medium and close-up shots, and a bit of the shaky cam comes into play as well. It's unconventional and risky because it turns people off, but for me the story, acting, and character development was more than enough to keep me watching and the camerawork only distracted me in one short scene. When Sarah finally tells Kevin about her psycho ex Garrick, the camera goes all over the place except on the character's faces and it was a little nauseating. I understand that it was probably shot like this to convey how frenzied the situation is for Sarah and to show the turmoil of Sarah's emotions, but it just didn't look that good, I'm sorry to say.
There's no doubt that the star of the film is AJ Bowen, who turns out an amazing performance as Garrick. His character is the most interesting of the bunch and also the most confusing, mostly because of the way Bowen plays him. He's a cold-blooded serial killer, yes, but it never seems like he wants to commit any of the murders that we actually see him do. It's like they're simply a necessity so he can get to where he is going. The anguish and torment on his face before and after the murders is quite intriguing, and is one of the reasons that kept me watching, so that I could find out what was going on with this guy. Amy Seimetz is a nice actress because she's a normal looking girl and she plays Sarah very naturally. The only problem is that sometimes she is a little too natural in her line delivery, stammering and repeating herself - you just want her to finally spit out her lines. Joe Swanberg is at first not that impressive as the nice guy Kevin - it's not until the end that you realize how great and calculating his performance was.
A Horrible Way to Die (gosh, I freaking love that title) has one of those ever-popular twists at the end that makes you rethink everything you've seen thus far. And I thought the twist was pretty close to brilliant. I certainly never expected it - I wasn't expecting a twist at all, really - and I sure as heck never would have guessed it, despite some cleverly hidden clues about how Garrick had a lot of "fans" in prison. With the flashback sequences of Sarah and Garrick's relationship, the twist does make sense and it's actually kind of sweet in a messed up way. If you were watching this movie thinking it was all dull and slow and boring and blah blah blah, I hope that this change of events kicked you in the pants and made you realize that you were watching something really special here.
The title of the film seems to offer much to make the horror lover happy but don't go into this thinking you're going to see something bloody and nasty. People do die, but they don't really die all that horribly... well, except for that one friend of Sarah's. I don't even know what the hell happened to her. Anyway, this is a character study and a damn fine one if you ask me. You could see this as a story about relationships, both romantic ones and the simple relationship of human to human. There are people who can't relate to other humans and hurt them, and there are people who are unable to see others for what they really are. This could also be a story about addictions with Sarah's alcoholism and Garrick's supposed addiction to murder. Either way you see the movie, it works, and I think the whole thing is beautifully done in every way.
I expect to see plenty more great films from this duo of Barrett and Wingard if A Horrible Way to Die has taught me anything. It was a nice change of pace from the bloody action of other movies I've been watching recently. With this one, it was easy to just sit back and be thoroughly engrossed by what was in front of me. If anything, I would recommend this movie just to let others know of the seriously talented AJ Bowen, who really rocks this whole movie from start to finish.