Written by Simon Barrett
Directed by Adam Wingard
Directed by Adam Wingard
With so many low-budget horror films flooding the market right now, it can often seem tedious to endure the bad ones, so that you can see the small number of quality films out there. But when you do find that one creative, well written and well acted film, it makes your hours watching uninspired, unoriginal films almost worth it. Thankfully A Horrible Way to Dieis one of the good ones, and it is absolutely worth your time.
The film follows the budding romance of Kevin (Joe Swanberg) and Sarah. Amy Seimetz’s performance as Sarah shows depth, nuance, and subtly that you do not often get to see in horror films, and she is quickly ,making herself into a horror genre powerhouse. Here she is not just the pretty blond victim in the film, but rather she carries the emotional weight of the plot on her shoulders. Sarah and Kevin are members of the same Alcoholics Anonymous group, and they slowly begin to move into friendship, and romance. As they learn more and more about each other we learn that Sarah’s past is much more complicated than just having issues with alcohol.
This almost too cute romance is intercut with a more grisly story arch. A serial killer (AJ Bowen) has escaped from prison, leaving a bloody mess behind him. We see this killer through seemingly unconnected bursts of violence, which may either be flashbacks to what landed him in jail in the first place, or vignettes of his current rampage to stay ahead of the police. Though these scenes are at first disorienting- it is not clear if they are in the past or future or how they relate to Sarah or Kevin- they do add to the atmosphere of uncertainty that Wingard is crafting. As the film goes along it becomes brutally clear why all of these scenes matter, but it does take some time go get there.
I found the non-linear course of A Horrible Way to Die pulled me in right away, because it made me pay more attention to each scene, however those who need a story to be straightforward might not enjoy it. You need to put in a little work as the viewer. Solving the mystery, and putting the pieces together as they are slowly handed to you can be the most engaging form of watching a film, and it made me even more invested when the plot twists and turns into its surprising conclusion. This is not the easiest film to just sit back and soak in, but it is very satisfying to do the work.
Not only does the plot meander and dodge around within the story, the camera frequently wanders around a scene as well. Admittedly, the shaky camera did get a little distracting. I general prefer my voyeurism to be unflinching. But I do understand that the unreliable camera can add to a film’s sense of realism, by evoking the style of direct cinema, so I often give directors a pass when using that technique. Wingard’s camera spent a good amount of the film out of focus, and wandering around the scene, rather than looking at the characters. I would love to revisit the film to explore the correlations between the camera focus and the dishonesty of the characters in those scenes. I get a distinct impression that a careful filmmaker, such as Wingard, would not have any unintentional coincidences.