Adam Wingard's highly accomplished third feature, A Horrible Way To Die
, is a pervasively uneasy serial killer flick that scored big on the festival circuit last year, and deserves a wider audience than its title will inevitably permit.
A temporally fragmented narrative means that you really need to know as little about the plot as possible. Suffice to say it centres on recently escaped serial killer Garrick Turrell (AJ Bowen) as he roams the US midwest with uncertain motives driving his progress. Meanwhile, alcoholics Sarah (Amy Seimetz) and Kevin (Joe Swanberg) form a tentative relationship after meeting at group therapy. Wingard structures the movie as a disconcerting series of non-contiguous episodes, each giving us a brief and increasingly worrying glimpse of the narrative. As the runtime progresses relationship dynamics are thrown in unexpected directions and alarming revelations are suggested, confirmed and then horrifically exposed. Set in a bleak, rural Missouri it's a dreadful yet surprisingly soulful tale.
In a testament to the meticulous infrastructure of Wingard's movie, while the chronological confusion is highly unnerving, it's never frustrating. Shot with a jittery camera and claustrophobic framing, it's a thoroughly teeth-clenching slow burn with only sporadic and mostly peripherally viewed moments of violence. Scenes blur-out rather than fade or cut, evoking hazy, half recalled memories - as though we're coming to from a beating and piecing it all together ourselves.
The audience is viscerally embraced from the outset and dragged through events by the scruff of their necks. Crucially too, unlike so many genre stablemates we don't travel with the police investigation but with those quotidian characters directly implicated in the drama.
The story's central trio are all driven by elusive motives, and share a frightening awkwardness that refuses to lock down their agendas. Sarah and Kevin's exchanges as their budding relationship develops are brilliantly orchestrated to unsettle. The very banality of their verbal and physical gestures implies a creepy and haunting ambiguity. Superb performances from Seimetz and Swanberg, are more than matched by Bowen's (The House of the Devil, Hatchet 2) deftly played serial killer.
The final act threatens to undo the good work, before surprising once more with a turn that marks this out as one of the most distinct serial killer movies in years.
Nothing to see here. Literally, other than the film itself, which is rendered well on the DVD and I can't see the grainy shaky-cam benefiting much from a high-def disc. Sound is clear and a well-balanced mix.
A Horrible Way To Die is out on UK DVD and Blu-ray from 19th March 2012 through Anchor Bay Entertainment.
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