Sometimes I find it easier to critique a film that I've never seen by listening to the audio commentary first, listening to the themes and ideas put forth by those involved (so long as directors or writers are involved, of course), and then seeing if the show can execute said intentions. It puts me in the right frame of mind for whatever type of show or film I'm about to delve blindly into, as well. With 'A Horrible Way to Die,' I decided to watch the supplements first, and perhaps this wasn't a good decision. It's not as if I "spoiled" any portion of the film, since I was playing audio only with awesome coverage blocking out film content. The thing is, I actually grew to appreciate the two men involved, director/editor Adam Wingard and writer/producer Simon Barrett, since they weren't talking in words steeped in studio politics. It was like hearing a shoot interview, nothing scripted, no words they couldn't use or ones they had to mention. They came across as two ordinary guys who made a film, who put themselves out there and did what they wanted to do with their lives, and I respect the hell out of that.
So...now comes the dilemma. See, I think the guys involved in this production, based on the limited sample, are pretty damned neat and very interesting, but I'm not a fan of the product of their work. Listening to them speak, it was like what you'd hear from Adam Green ('Hatchet'), another seemingly regular guy in the business, but the quality of work was nowhere near on par. In fact, 'A Horrible Way to Die' may be best defined as an amateur film. I have to separate my appreciation for the ideals these men put forth, and judge them by the end result of their dedication, which was a borderline incoherent mess.
'A Horrible Way to Die' tells two interconnected stories, one which is beyond effective, an idea that would make for a great film if given the proper treatment and acting, and another which is confusing, bordering on incoherent. Our main character Sarah (Amy Seimetz) is an alcoholic seeking treatment, trying to piece her life together, saying that a bad relationship led her down a self destructive path. That's the truth, but not the whole truth, as it turns out her ex-boyfriend was a serial killer, and she's responsible for his apprehension after following him late one evening. The killer (AJ Bowen) is a merciless, aggressive psychopath, pretty much on par with Quentin Tarantino's character in 'From Dusk Till Dawn,' preying on the defenseless, whose cunning has seen him escape prison and begin yet another murderous rampage. As these two stories unravel, side by side, truths are revealed, and the real danger isn't where one would expect it to be...
The Sarah portion of the film works. It works well. The portrayal of the woman, haunted with guilt and psychological issues as a byproduct of her experience, is beyond believable. Seimetz isn't convincing in her performance, but the writing for her scenes, the setups involving her are done in a manner that shows careful consideration was put into planning out her arc realistically. It makes 100 percent sense her position in life, where she is, who she is. Her fears, her anxieties, her mental state are all created from a very plausible, understandable vantage point. She's not a victim to Garrick Turrell in the same way various women and men were for God only knows how long. She's a victim of herself.
The Garrick portion of the film is where things stop making sense. The killer in 'A Horrible Way to Die's narrative is the manner in which continuity is portrayed, as flashbacks don't have any discernible aesthetic difference to current events, which makes entire scenes seem out of place, drawing the viewer outside of the film to figure out what happened, forcing them to decide whether they'll want to reconnect or not. After too many of these moments, the desire to keep going grows thinner and thinner. Turrell's entire plot also doesn't make a lick of sense. Alright, there's an escape scene, like out of any movie. Sure, I get that. But in what real life event or cinematic portrayal has a key protected witness crucial to a killer's conviction been left in the dark when the man he or she put away escapes and is possibly seeking retribution? Not once does her phone ring, saying "Hey, Sarah. Ummm...we need to relocate you until the escaped man you were pivotal in capturing is once again apprehended. Yeah...sorry about that...". Since when does anyone think they're going to survive a knifepoint or gunpoint scenario with a kidnapper using you to cross a border or other protected crossing? That alone means the guy has killed, and you're as good as dead, so why die for no reason?
'A Horrible Way to Die' features stilted, forced dialogue, awkward sex scenes (that feature nothing but thrusting man ass), and the ultimate facial hair, as Bowen shows he can rock a killer mustache or unkempt beard. In fact, due to the random time changes, Bowen seems like a world record holder for fastest facial hair growth, and even in scenes in sequence, he goes from clean shaven to sporting the most massive five o'clock shadow ever put to film in the time it takes for one scene to end. It also features a strange cinematography decision that is yet another disconnect to the film. The way the camera moves and randomly zooms in and out makes it seem like a home video, or like we're supposed to be seeing the events through someone's eyes. Only, we're not. It's like a horror film was made with homemade sex tape sensibilities.
'A Horrible Way to Die' could have been a lot better, but it also could have been worse. It has its moments, and it does show signs that the men behind the film actually put thought into it. It's all in the execution, though, and there's not much here that feels like a polished or completed product. This may be a good stepping stone for Wingard and Barrett, if they learn from this experience, and capitalize on what they did right versus what they could have done better. If they grow as filmmakers, I can see a very good film coming from them someday.
Now, I really don't want to be mean when explaining why this disc scored so low in this section. I honestly think the guys behind this particular film put in a lot of effort, and did the best they could with whatever budget they had. With that in mind, I really, really, really don't want to come across as praising this release in any way. 'A Horrible Way to Die' looks bad, just bad. Yes, this is 1080p, but this film is about as high-def as all that footage of Bigfoot.
I'm sorry, I just can't call this high definition. It's bad. The picture is regularly dark and gritty, and I don't mean gritty as in grainy. I mean artifacty. Detail levels are never high, and fluctuate from "meh" to "why!?!?" The film even pulsates in one sequence, with black entering and exiting the scene like it were indecisive if the movie wanted to be a day or night shot in one corner. Skin tones can very mid-scene, as shot-to-shot they go pale then excessively red. Facial hair regularly looks drawn on, despite this not being the case. Shadow detail? On my Blu-ray? You better not believe it! This film regularly doesn't even look focused, as the blurry facial features vary mid-shot with the constant zooming in and out. Did I not mention that issue in this part of the review? How this literally is filmed like a homemade porn? Yeah, that doesn't help things. Backgrounds are regularly undefined and completely washed out. Best of all, there's often a heavy blue tint that makes whites a bit less than white, and characters borderline Smurf-ish.
Somehow, this is still better than 'Birdemic.' Barely. There's intent, then there's technical limitations, and then there's this. There's nothing pretty here. Aside from the artifacts being bigger and throwing in chroma fringe to boot, I really don't see why a DVD wouldn't suffice. Hell, I have to wonder if I just watched a DVD.
The audio for 'A Horrible Way to Die' comes by way of a lossless Dolby TrueHD 5.1 track that's not great, but not bad. Sure, I was ready to lambast this thing when an entire scene sounded horrible due to wind blowing directly into a microphone (which has to be my favorite sound ever, next to Fran Drescher's laugh), but it got better. Maybe. I mean, I liked the bass in the score, I liked how the score sounded, how it created some good atmosphere (how the score itself may be the best part of the film...), but I'm not so much a fan of the prioritization in this film, with some sequences featuring ambient effects that are unnecessary to the scene, that are louder, borderline dominating, obscuring dialogue. Dialogue itself has no problematic lines, but nothing to write home about. Passable.
'A Horrible Way to Die' isn't a horrible way to spend an hour and a half, but it could have been better. The plot could have been more coherent, flashbacks more obvious, tension more...well, existent in the first place. For an amateur effort, it's really an interesting step in the right direction. This Blu-ray...yeah, I promise, it's a Blu-ray. That's about all there is for the niceties. This one may be one to skip, but for those curious or daring, it's a high risk, high reward affair.