It’s so easy to write off a villain as a monster or as the boogyman that doesn’t have any emotions. Maybe we see these malefactors as a someone who doesn’t even have the right to feel. Sociopaths are easy to hate or brush off as you close your eyes after a night filled with cold-blooded slasher films.
What about the killers that feel guilt? Not the repentant distracted drivers and carried-away burglars, but those rare serial killers that feel the pangs of their conscience after they’ve taken a life. Don’t think they exist? Take a look at A Horrible Way to Die and then decide.
Convicted serial killer Garrick Turrell (AJ Bowen Creepshow 3, The House of the Devil) has just escaped from prison, in search of the girl that turned him in: his ex-girlfriend Sarah (Amy Seimetz The Off-Hours). Throughout his venture, Turrell leaves bodies galore in his wake, but with each kill he mourns. Every victim is treated as a person, not the trophies that we’re used to seeing. What’s so special about Sarah? If Turrell is so remorseful, why would he want to kill her? Is he really that mad at her for putting him in a place where he can’t kill anymore?
Being a big fan of Dexter and Criminal Minds, the serial killer sub-genre is right up my alley. So when I went into this movie, I expected a fun, yet run of the mill, murder experience. What I didn’t expect was to be blown away by the story of Garrick Turrell. While movies with relatable killers aren’t horribly uncommon, they’re rare enough to really hit you when you’re not expecting it. It’s so hard to decide which side to be on in a film like this, and that’s what makes it such a good experience. Would a show like Dexter be so popular if he wasn’t someone we could identify with?
While I thoroughly enjoyed the story, there were some issues with the camera angles and filming that were really bothersome. When you notice the focus or the zoom on the camera it tends to take you right out of the film experience. Nit-picky things like fixing the zoom or editing out a moment when an actor looks into the camera is an issue that could easily be fixed. Being the eighth film from director Adam Wingard (Popskull), I can only hope that he takes the time to edit these issues in the future.
The film is basically in stream of consciousness, think Momento and Requiem for a Dream, which makes it somewhat hard to follow, but in a good way. What’s even more curious about the storyline is that it came from Simon Barrett, the man that brought us Frankenfish. This just goes to show you that you never know what to expect from the horror industry. I’m excited to say that Barrett and Wingard have a couple more horror projects in the works: What Fun We’re Having and You’re Next. I hope they live up to what we see in A Horrible Way to Die.
The acting in the film is raw in a way that feels awkward but realistic. AJ Bowen was a standout in A Horrible Way to Die; his grief and guilt came through and really pulls at the viewer. When Sarah tries to move on after her failed relationship with Garrick, it's really hard to watch her in dating situations. There are several moments that are so awkward it'll make you cringe, but only because you've probably been there. The characters and plot might seem slow, but I found all the quirks to be a breath of fresh air. It seems like a lot of movies develop human relationships way too quickly, and in A Horrible Way to Die, it feels real instead of some cinematic dream.
The bonus features on the disc contain a behind-the-scenes look at the filming of A Horrible Way to Die, along with audio commentary by director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett. I do think more extensive bonus features could have been added, but maybe we’ll see that in the next batch of Wingard/Barrett films. There’s always hope. (*Editor Note- Commentary feature added. Disc score adjusted.)
If you’re willing to look past cinematography and editing issues, you really should give A Horrible Way to Die a chance. A Horrible Way to Die does a great job of keeping you thinking throughout the entire film. By the time it's over, you'll be wondering whether or not you're normal for sympathizing with a serial killer.
Film Score: 3/5 Disc Score: 2/5