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A Horrible Way To Die (2011)
26th Feb 12
An escaped serial killing maniac hits the road to find his ex. She’s understandably a little nervous.
A festival fave / argument-starter in 2011, director / editor Adam Wingard’s A Horrible Way To Die goes out of its horrible way to be “not for everyone” but those who appreciate its steady downbeat story, shattered narrative, strong performances and arty indulgences will enjoy what is probably the first great horror release of 2012.
Serial killer Garrick (Bowen) has just escaped from incarceration and leaves a slew of corpses on his road to track down terrified ex-girlfriend Sarah (Seimetz) who’s trying to piece her life back together and beat the bottle. As Garrick draws nearer and Sarah attempts to overcome her intimacy issues embarking on a potential relationship with fellow 12-stepper Kevin (Swanberg), we’re drip-fed flashbacks of the estranged couple in “happier” times i.e. when she was drinking and before she knew he was a psychopath.
Flashbacks are not however the only narrative quirk in the can as even things happening in the present aren’t told linearly. When the jumpy order of events becomes too confusing, the homicidal’s facial fuzz acts as a handy narrative device, though it does have a Beadle Does Rasputin look to it during his prison phase.
This approach is where AHWTD will fail for many (and it has) as it might appear that Wingard is trying to tart up a simple story by sticking events on random mode but Simon Barrett’s script is anything but simple. It honestly and non-patronisingly deals with themes like addiction, manipulation, trust and intimacy of both the physical and psychological variety as well as the tender and violent kind. Wingard’s jagged storytelling and restless beautiful eye don’t stifle Barrett’s twisted human drama but instead teases the complexities out nicely.
The main complaint about pared down arty horror is that they offer nice visuals but are ultimately all dressed up with nowhere to go, at least not with the audience. Trust is a big part of what AHWTD is about and you should trust Wingard and Barrett as they’ve got somewhere to take you. The ride is involving and suitably tense but the climax is a superb one-two that’s genuinely surprising.
What makes this a rough gem to cherish above all else is the cast delivering some of the most believable affecting performances bestowed on a modern horror. Seimetz as Sarah, the shaky emotional core, is disarmingly relatable and great as always. Swanberg’s would-be suitor hits all the right buttons and his presence is interesting here as his mumblecore credentials hammer home how much AHWTD resembles that movement. (I’d attempt to coin the phrase mumblegore here but i feel it would be an insult to both you the reader and the wordcount to do so.)
The biggest impression is made by Bowen as an attractive bear of a man who enjoys killing but not the fact that he enjoys it; Garrick is touching, terrifying, unpredictable, endearing and one of cinema’s greatest warm blooded psychotics. Bowen is a really fantastic, uniquely watchable actor who’s star is rightfully on the rise and let us thank our lucky stars he seems to really love horror and good scripts.
Don’t be put off by or (perhaps more importantly) sold on the aggressively cheap title. True more than a few people do die in horrible ways, but despite a couple of handsome dollops of gore this one ain’t about the cheap thrills and if you’re a romantic it could be the bleakest thing you’ll ever see. Again this is indeed not for everyone but it’s a subtle, disturbing, poignant and rewarding experience that’s well worth taking a chance on.