Whenever I see the cover to a film like A Horrible Way to Die, many questions pop into my head, but overwhelmingly, the one I want answered is whatever happened to the fun Saturday matinee horror film. Seriously, whatever happened to blood, guts, and good scares? Today's horror has been hijacked by filmmakers who seem less interested in making an entertaining movie and more interested in making the audience as uncomfortable as possible. The “torture porn” movement in horror is so unfortunate because it takes away everything I like about horror. I don't ask for a lot from the horror genre. Good horror doesn't need a complicated plot or three-dimensional characters. To me, good horror is like a roller coaster because it will freak me out again and again, but I want to keep going. A Horrible Way to Die is not a roller coaster. A Horrible Way to Die is like a really boring car ride to Chicago with your obnoxious little brother in the passenger's seat, and every couple of miles, he punches you in the stomach. All of a sudden, just as you think you have almost reached Chicago, you take a turn and realize that the signs all lied, and you're in Detroit. It's not that you don't like Detroit, but you thought you were heading to Chicago and have had to endure hours of tedium and getting punched to reach Chicago. That being said, no one needs to put themselves through the torture and boredom of A Horrible Way to Die, even hard-core horror fans.
A Horrible Way to Die is a story told from two different perspectives. The first perspective is Sarah (Amy Seimetz), the ex-girlfriend of a convicted serial killer. Sarah is trying to sober up, move on with her life, and try dating again, starting with Kevin (Joe Swanberg) from her Alcoholics Anonymous group. The second perspective is Garrick (AJ Bown), Sarah's ex-boyfriend who just escaped from prison and is making his way to Sarah. Sarah's perspective runs chronologically while Garrick's perspective jumps around to different parts in the storyline.
I mentioned before that A Horrible Way to Die is surprisingly tedious, but upon further reflection, this movie has far bigger problems than its pacing. Pacing can be fixed by changing directors or messing with the editing in post-production. A Horrible Way to Die is rotten all the way through, and no director or editor could have done much better. First, in order to appreciate the story, you have to be completely stupid and disregard any and all common sense you might have had walking into this movie. Sarah is in the Witness Protection Program because she testified against Garrick, and yet she is still using her own name and no one bothers to contact her when Garrick breaks out of a high-security prison. Does this make sense to anyone? Also, when Sarah realizes that Garrick is coming for her, she does not call the police or the U.S. Marshal who would be assigned to protect her if she was in the Witness Protection Program. Instead, she agrees to go to a cabin in the middle of the woods, so far away from civilization that they have to go out in the snow to turn on the electricity.
Secondly, A Horrible Way to Die has a ridiculous twist ending which, without giving too much away, asks the audience to like a character who is irredeemable. Don't get me wrong, I love a good anti-hero, but Garrick fails both as an anti-hero and as a villain. Screenwriter Simon Barrett might argue that Garrick is redeemed by his one good deed, but this one “good deed” is only achieved by killing about 9 more innocent people. Besides that, he is so underdeveloped that I didn't enjoy him as a villain either. His kills are so devoid of emotion, and it doesn't feel like a conscious creative decision like Javier Bardem in No Country for Old Men.
With the exception of Garrick's police escorts and two guys that Garrick runs into at a bar, all of his kills are young beautiful women. There is a fairly disturbing shot in Garrick's hotel room bathroom where his most recent victim, a skinny twenty-something blonde, is laying in the bathtub completely naked with her throat slit. The shot is framed so that her naked breasts are still prominently on display. I can't see any reason for the filmmakers to include this shot except to continue this disturbing trend of linking the torture of women with sexual arousal.
A Horrible Way to Die is only 87 minutes long, and yet it feels like it runs at least twice as long. Even thinking about the movie, especially the twist ending, makes me feel a mixture of anger and frustration that I spent any time or thought on this movie. Sexualized violence, implausible plot twists and a yawn-inducing pace make this A Horrible Way to Die and a poor excuse for a film.
Special features include the film's trailer and a behind-the-scenes featurette of the young hipster filmmakers patting themselves on the back for doing something different with the horror genre. Yeah...sure...
"A Horrible Way To Die" is on sale September 6, 2011 and is rated R. Horror. Directed by Adam Wingard. Written by Simon Barrett. Starring AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz, Joe Swanberg.