The other addicts in the film are Sarah (Amy Seimetz) and Kevin (Joe Swanberg), recovering alcoholics in the same smalltown AA group. Kevin awkwardly asks Sarah out one night, and some sort of romance starts fumbling its way out of that. Kevin's a perpetually smiling nice guy who never really seems sure what to say, and everything that eventually comes out of his mouth makes him want to recoil in shame afterwards. Sarah's not quite as chatty, still struggling with some of the demons from her past. There's the alcoholism, yeah, but the last relationship Sarah was in still has her reeling. Her ex-boyfriend wasn't the man she thought he was...but his secret life didn't involve a secret spouse or anything blandly ordinary like that. No, it turned out that
It's mentioned in the disc's audio commentary that some of the key inspirations for A Horrible Way to Die weren't straightahead slasher flicks but mumblecore. It definitely has that same fascination with what's real...what's natural. While most serial killer movies stick to an unwaveringly steady, predictable rhythm -- to the point where you can practically set your watch to when the next kill or jump scare will roll around -- A Horrible Way to Die is slower and more methodical. The dialogue shies away from the usual sort of cinematic polish, instead littered with false starts and uncomfortable pauses. That's spot-on; Sarah and Kevin don't know each other, they aren't really sure what to say or how to respond, so of course it's going to come across as awkward. That's how it works in the real world, all the way down to Kevin's frustrated groan to himself when a few stabs at telling witty jokes sputter and die. The voyeuristic camerawork feels like someone's peeking around behind corners, constantly jockeying for a better view. The violence is gruesome but generally only glimpsed in quick flashes. The awkwardly framed sex scene looks as if it's from a peeping tom's point-of-view rather than carefully blocked by a seasoned cinematographer. Unlike seemingly every other serial killer movie out there, you're not meant to get off on the screwing or slashing.
Again, even Garrick -- an infamous serial killer -- is quiet, polite, and repentant. The most extreme emotion that spirals out of him for much of the movie is mild annoyance at a victim who won't shut up, but even then, he really doesn't snap...he runs about as hot as someone who's been waiting in line at the supermarket for too long. Until his pent-up compulsion to murder is unleashed, there's nothing at all about him that so much as hints that he's deranged, and A Horrible Way to Die even plays that for laughs when the not-at-all overtly insane Garrick suffers through a
A Horrible Way to Die rarely tries to wring any tension or suspense out of the murders themselves. There are no frenzied cat-and-mouse chases or one of Garrick's prey all of a sudden fighting for her life. No, what drives the suspense is that there are these two very different stories running concurrently -- an awkward romance between two recovering alcoholics; a serial killer carving a bloody path of destruction on his way to find his ex -- and the complete uncertainty when those plotlines will collide and what'll spill out as a result. It's very much a character piece, not getting all that caught up in the mechanics of its plot, and the very non-linear storytelling has been carefully constructed to reinforce that. I'm sure by this point in the review that I really don't need to spell out that A Horrible Way to Die isn't at all conventional, commercial thriller. As much of a fan of dumb, formulaic slashers as I am, I can't help but be intrigued by a movie that plays with some of those same elements but in such an unpredictable and entirely different way. The naturalistic performances by Bowen, Seimetz, and Swanberg are remarkably engrossing, and I can honestly say that what happens when the three of them inevitably wind up in the same room together caught me completely off-guard. Admittedly, the violently shaky camerawork and the distracting overreliance on losing focus before fades could turn off some viewers. A Horrible Way to Die's methodical pacing and complete disinterest in slasher tropes mean it's by design not meant to play to a wide audience. Don't pick up this Blu-ray disc if you're expecting yet another faceless Friday the 13th knockoff. For adventurous genre enthusiasts hungering for something different, though, A Horrible Way to Die should make for a very worthy discovery on Blu-ray. Recommended.
The deliberately gritty, rough-hewn photography of A Horrible Way to Die doesn't make for dazzling high definition eye candy so much. Detail and clarity are lackluster at best, and the further the camera
A Horrible Way to Die arrives on Blu-ray at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The video has been encoded with AVC and fits comfortably on a single layer disc.
Since A Horrible Way to Die veers away from the usual stalk-and-slash tropes, its 24-bit, Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is more understated than you might normally expect. The surrounds are reserved primarily for reinforcing the keyboard-driven score as well as splashes of atmospheric color...howling wind, forks clinking against plates in a restaurant, and one early pan from the rears to the front channels. As it's not an action-oriented film, it follows that the subwoofer is also used somewhat sparingly, although the synth-bass does crackle with ferocity when appropriate. It's mentioned in the commentary track that the audio was recorded directly into the camera, and whatever setup was used does seem to be dragged down by some mild clipping in the dialogue. Subdued but effective.
The only other soundtrack on this Blu-ray disc is an audio commentary. Subtitles are limited to English (SDH) and Spanish.
The Final Word
I'll admit it: I grabbed a copy of A Horrible Way to Die expecting a straightahead, completely formulaic slasher flick, and instead I wound up watching a naturalistic, fiercely unconventional film about relationships and destructive compulsions that just happens to have a serial killer as one of its three leads. I've devoured more slashers over the years than I'd care to count, but I've never seen a genre film like this before. Because A Horrible Way to Die is a deliberately slow burn and doesn't get all that caught up in any of the usual genre theatrics, it's not the easiest movie to recommend. I don't mean that at all in a bad way...just that A Horrible Way to Die is the movie it wants to be, not the paint-by-numbers splatterfest you probably pictured from a quick skim of the title, and it has no interest in any of the standard issue formulas or conventions. I greatly respect what Adam Wingard, Simon Barrett, and their immensely talented cast have accomplished here. Because it's so different than everything else out there, though, cautious viewers understandably may want to opt for a rental first. If you're a genre fan with a taste for something decidedly different, A Horrible Way to Die is well-worth hunting down. Recommended.