Exceptional writing, solid acting performances, and a refreshingly original premise elevate A Horrible Way To Die to the short list of must-sees from Fantastic Fest 2010. For a movie lover, there is nothing better than discovering a hidden gem in its pure state, before all the packaging and marketing sully the original vision.
Such was the case with this movie, which immediately emerged as one of my personal festival favorites. Writer Simon Barrett mines fresh territory in the serial killer genre by positing an intriguing premise; how would you move on with your life if your ex- boyfriend was a serial killer?
The story unfolds in a non-linear fashion, partially told in flashbacks. Sarah (played by Amy Seimetz) is a dental hygienist who is haunted by memories of her ex, who ended up being a Ted Bundy type serial killer. Understandably, she is crippled by self-doubt and insecurity because of her past, which makes a new relationship almost unthinkable. She regularly attends AA meetings.
Enter Kevin (Joe Swanberg), a sweetly awkward fellow addict who asks Sarah out. She tenuously accepts his invitation, and the two strike up a romance of sorts. Meanwhile, her ex escapes from prison during a routine transfer, and Sarah must come to grips with the fact that the man may be pursuing her. How will she share her dark secret with Kevin?
It’s a delicious spin on the whole serial killer sub-genre. The film slowly builds tension and lets us become familiar with the characters, so that when the twisty final act rolls around, it’s a real punch to the gut. Charismatic AJ Bowen (who also appeared in Hatchet 2, another Fantastic Fest movie) plays Sarah’s ex-boyfriend Garrick.
Like Mickey and Mallory in Natural Born Killers, Garrick has a rabid fan base that treats him like a celebrity. He gets fan mail and love letters when he is in prison and he has a facebook page and multiple websites dedicated to him.
It’s a chilling commentary on our current state of pop culture worship and our moral decline as a society. After all, we’ve already seen this type of behavior with Ted Bundy and multiple other serial killers; it’s hardly a far-fetched idea.
One intriguing aspect of the movie is the way Garrick is portrayed. We typically see serial killers presented as robotic killing machines, but Garrick seems genuinely sickened by his own violent impulses. He does not embrace his celebrity status, he seems ashamed of it.
A Horrible Way To Die forgoes the instant gratification of typical slasher flicks, and in return the audience is richly rewarded by one of the most original films the genre has seen in years. It is not a perfect film (some shaky-cam scenes are quite frustrating to sit through) but it is tremendously satisfying one.
A Horrible Way To Die is directed by Adam Wingard, and written by Simon Barrett. Starring AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz, Joe Swanberg, Brandon Carroll, and Lane Hughes.
The film won best screenplay, best actor (AJ Bowen) and best actress (Amy Seimetz) at the Fantastic Fest 2010 awards.