Atmospheric. Haunting. Subversive. They're words that could be applied to virtually anything in the Adam Wingard canon and they are no less true here with his latest feature, A Horrible Way To Die. But what Wingard has now that has, perhaps, lacked from his earlier work is a story that's truly a story rather than an experiment. If micro budget sensation Pop Skull was Wingard with a mood then A Horrible Way To Die is Wingard with a point. Don't let the trademark atmospherics and languid delivery fool you, this is Wingard with a focus as tight and sharp as any blade wielded by Garrick Turrell (AJ Bowen) as he leaves his trail of corpses scattered across the country.
Sarah (Amy Seimetz) is trying to start a new life. New town. New job. New lifestyle, hopefully, thanks to the help of Alcoholics Anonymous. And she's making progress, or she seems to be, though there's a nervous edge to her that hints at a difficult past.
And that past is coming inexorably back to her. Literally.
Sarah needs the new life because the old one revolved around Garrick, seemingly normal, caring Garrick, whose placid exterior masked the reality that he regularly fought a losing battle against the compulsion to kill. Sarah's old life fell apart when she realized how very, very wrong she was about the man she loved. It fell apart when she discovered his kill room. It fell apart when she turned on him and sent him away to a life sentence in prison. And now it's coming back because prison couldn't hold Garrick and the corpses piling up along the interstates make a direct line from Sarah's old life to her new one.
A sleepy eyed thriller prone to bursts of sudden, explosive violence, A Horrible Way To Die both embraces and subverts what you think you know about serial killer stories. The striking, subtly nuanced script from Simon Barrett (Dead Birds) fits Wingard like a glove, playing to his strengths while also setting him to work in a world with much broader appeal than anything in his past. Much like Garrick himself the script is a devious one, a bit of a shapeshifter that lulls you into believing it is one thing before revealing its true nature and moving in for the kill.
AJ Bowen (House of the Devil, The Signal), Joe Swanberg (Quiet City, LOL) and Amy Seimetz (Tiny Furniture, The Myth of the American Sleepover) - indie stalwarts, all of them - combine to give the film a sort of quiet gravity, the emotional core that keeps it firmly on track and drives the tension up to extreme levels. Character is the thing here, even as the blood begins to flow, and it is the adherence to character that gives the film an extra emotional wallop once things really start to go to hell.
Pretty much from the day he arrived on the scene Adam Wingard has been regarded as a sort of outsider wunderkind. Thanks to A Horrible Way To Die we may have to drop the 'outsider' part of that label.
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