A serial killer escapes – and he’s killing ever closer to his former girlfriend
If it wasn’t for the stellar performance of Amy Seimetz as Sarah, I would have walked away from this subtle attempt at a thriller after the inciting incident.
When convicted serial killer Garrick Turrell (AJ Bowen) escapes from police custody, and goes back to his old tricks, his former girlfriend may end up a victim. A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE is straightforward with one grand surprise, but to get there, the audience must sit through a molasses-moving enterprise that doesn’t maintain interest or suspense.
Simon Barrett penned this tale and Director Adam Wingard made sure it ended up in the can. However, unlike skilled directors reveling in subtlety, such as Lance Weiler and his riveting THE LAST BROADCAST (1998) and fantastic HEAD TRAUMA (2006), Wingard’s artsiness gets in the way of story, and bogs the tale down at many a turn.
And although Bowen shined on occasion as the seemingly reluctant and guilt ridden killer of women, Seimetz kept the show afloat as the mentally scarred woman trying to hide in her Alcoholics Anonymous group to get through another day. Her performance is genuine and strong, reminiscent of Kristin Scott Thomas in I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG (France, 2008) with some of Vera Farmiga’s strength in DOWN TO THE BONE (2004). Sadly, the bulk of the cast, especially Joe Swanberg and Lane Hughes, forgot they were trying to do something better than a guy running around with a super 8. This is most evident during that big surprise when Barrett went on vacation and forgot that quality dialogue was sorely needed; even worse, performances clearly waned during this vital scene. Sadly, that’s the moment that sank this picture for good. If it had been executed differently, this movie would have scored higher on the charts. Instead, it’s an “also ran” fit to collect dust on a shelf.
As an aside, Barrett took a page from Ted Tally’s script for SILENCE OF THE LAMBS (1991) and Wingard couldn’t help but continue with the lame homage, and mimicked Director Jonathan Demme’s approach to Turrell’s escape. Remember when Hannibal is all wrapped up like a sausage and his eyes zero in on Dr. Chilton’s pen? Well, it’s an itty-bitty screw rolling around in the bottom of a police van that gets Garrick Turrell’s attention. As in SILENCE, we never see how the maniacal killer gets a hold of said object. Regardless, this little element proves to be the key to freedom so the bloodletting can commence.
However, Wingard does have some skills, and cinematographers Chris Hilleke and Mark Shelhorse helped him look good on occasion – though their extensive use of out of focus shots and out of frame maneuvers became tiresome and undermined their attempts at thematic resonance.
If you’re a serial killer fanatic, stick with John Naughton’s HENRY: PORTRAIT OF SERIAL KILLER (1986) if your desire is to get into the disturbing muck of it all. Otherwise, leave this one behind – unless you want to see how Seimetz may have broken through to bigger and better things.
2 out of 5 stars