Horrible Way To Die
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Horrible Way To Die



Just when I’ve all but given up on independent horror flicks a movie comes along to restore my hopes and enjoyment of the greatly maligned genre; horror. The previous decade or so has witnessed a regrettable migration of horror films from stories of terror and suspense to debauched spectacles of unimaginable torture fueled by copious quantities of fake blood, phony entrails and gratuitous sex and nudity. With popular franchises like ‘Saw’ and ‘Turistas’ we have descended below the level of depravity exhibited by the Romans when bread and circuses was the order of the day. I thought I was in for much of the same when I opened the shipment of screeners to find a Blu-ray dubiously entitled ‘A Horrible Way to Die’. With some measure of trepidation I slipped the disc into my play and sat back ready for the worse. After all the torture oriented horror flicks that have proliferated dominating the genre has explored numerous rather disgusting methods to dispatch a person that would surely fit the criteria set forth in this title. As I sat back bracing for the mindless carnage I was certain would ensue I began to notice something completely unexpected. There was an actual story unfolding complete with plot, character development and the ability to capture and retain interest. The pleasant surprise contained within this Indy gem is the filmmaker’s ability to actually make a film instead of seeing how wanton they can get or the degree of controversy they can muster. At times there are moments that appear to be giving in to the trend but in every instance the filmmaker pulls up from that fatal nosedive in the nick of time keeping the picture on track. One of the truly amazing aspects of this movie is how it incorporates much of the same basic elements as the juvenile excuses for horror but utilizes them in an exceptionally effective fashion. It is like give a master chef and short order cook the same ingredients. The cook will certain come up with something palatable to the masses but mundane while the chef will create something really special. This film is such an example of cinematic fine dining. There are a few clashing notes present which are to be expected but the overall effect is better than the title might lead you to believe.

For most horror film films you need a sinister villain completely lacking any sense of empathy or compassion, a monstrous creature that is little more than the perfect, unstoppable lethal juggernaut. Traditionally this is accomplished either by introducing some supernatural force of evil along the lines of Freddie Kruger or the one crafting the story can turn to the more realistic and therefore possible human monster, the serial killer. According to the FBI’s Behavior Analysis Unit at any given moment approximately one thousand serial murders are active in this country. In what turns out to be a very wise decision screenwriter Simon Barrett went with the serial killer motif. This represents a positive move as an author whose previous scripts were pretty much restricted to the SyFy Channel’s Saturday night specials with such regrettable names as ‘Frankenfish’ and Dead Birds’. With this project he eschews the supernatural in favor of the pure evil than does exist in our own species. The terror here is incarnated in the form of Garrick Turrell (A.J. Bowen). He has no more compunction over slaughtering a helpless human being than most would feel over swatting a mosquito. When we first encounter Garrick he is in the process of racking up another kill; strangling a frightened young woman in a desolate wooded area. He had been caught, tried and convicted but recently managed to perpetrate an escape. While it would make sense for Garrick to keep a low profile and avoid calling attention to himself but Turrell is not one prone to rational thought. Instead, he is a man on a mission, to cross the country to hunt down his ex girlfriend, Sarah (Amy Seimetz). She moved away in hopes rebuilding the shattered fragments of her life. Sarah is a recovering alcoholic sharing at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting her reaching four months of sobriety. Although contrary to the generally accepted tenants of A.A. she is in a serious relationship with a man also in recovery, Kevin (Joe Swanberg).

The director, Adam Wingard, has an exceptionally strong scene of style that binds the film together elevating it above the common throng. His reflected the fashion in which he built his career. He began as a film student honing his abilities by serving in the capacity of editor and cinematographer before plying his trade as director. This give this film a strong foundation that holds together far better than the typical horror flick. In short Wingard approached Barrett’s screenplay not with the goal to make a good horror film but in craft a solid film that inspires the elements of horror in its audience. This comes across as the difference in quality that Wingard focused on the cinematic factors rather than forcing the archetypes of horror into something that cannot sustain itself first as an entertaining movie. So many directs become entrapped in the elements of the genre they are working in that they forget the more fundamental aspects of the underlying film. Wingard has resuscitated the Indy horror flick by constructing it on a well made movie. The dynamic created between the characters rings true permitting something far more effective than the quick and easy visceral thrill depending on the psychological thriller that creeps deep into your consciousness. The result is as good old fashion horror movie that will hold you on the edge of your seat throughout its entire running time.

Posted 09/02/11

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