Is serious-minded horror making a comeback? Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but the power of the recent triple-threat that includes STAKE LAND, BEREAVEMENT and A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE cannot be denied. These are thoughtful, meaningful and straightforward tales of terror that underscore the importance of good storytelling, characters and atmosphere. And yes, you’ll get your money’s worth in the graphic gore department as well.
Speaking of graphic gore, I was expecting more if it in A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE. I guess that’s a backhanded compliment; clearly its provocative title tries to capture the zeitgeist of the torture porn craze but the movie doesn’t stoop to pure exploitation aesthetics. What we have here is a twisted, little gem that’s still very graphic but prefers the power of suggestion and some truly fine performances from its talented cast to create a thick fog of desperation.
A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE follows the exploits of notorious murderer Garrick Turrell (AJ Bowen of HOUSE OF THE DEVIL) who has escaped from police custody and resumed his killing spree. His former girlfriend Sarah is a recovering alcoholic trying to put her life back together in a new town with a new man. But her past continues to haunt her, including the trail of slaughter left behind by her ex-boyfriend in his hunt to find her.
Writer Simon Barrett (DEAD BIRDS) certainly strings together an interesting tale that touches upon a wide swath of human emotions including love, lust, regret, frustration and rage. The trials and tribulations of coping with addiction – in Sarah’s case alcohol, in Garrick’s case, murder - are always at the forefront, but never become preachy or distracting. It’s just always there, festering and eating away at the main characters as they are constantly reminded of their difficult realities.
Another admirable trait of A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE is the execution of the story. We are gradually introduced to the separate worlds of Sarah and Garrick through a series of not-quite cohesive events and flashbacks until their worlds eventually collide again. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention the superbly somber and simplistic score that lends a certain gravitas to the film’s unpleasant subject matter. These are really smart choices made by director and editor Adam Wingard.
The acting is also very, very smart and without it, A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE might have ended up as just another direct to video nobody. The Sarah character is played with gritty conviction by Amy Seimetz. We feel her pain, loss and horror every step of the way. AJ Bowen totally embodies the role of serial killer Garrick Turrell. His performance is both intense, yet brilliantly understated. This is a ticking time bomb of a man who experiences a physical reaction to his rage that is clearly beyond his control. And because of this, you really feel sorry for his victims who are always in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Anchor Bay’s Blu-Ray of A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE is a nice transfer. Detail is sharp, colors are accurate and the sound is rich. I didn’t listen to the commentary with writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard but I did catch the brief behind-the-scenes vignette. It’s short but very sweet and provides a good glimpse into what the mood was like on the set and how they filmed a few of the shots. Good stuff.
It’s almost hard to believe that something so, ahem, horrible could make me feel so good but that’s exactly what A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE did to me. This is a devastating film that gets under your skin and stays with you long after the closing credits.