Most horror movies aren’t too concerned with character development or acting. They just shoot for the lowest common denominator of gore and pacing. A Horrible Way to Die, from a startlingly talented young director out of Alabama named Adam Wingard, is the exact opposite. The trappings are straight-up genre stuff about a serial killer, but the format is a languid character study that lets three very good actors breathe as their relationships develop, coalesce, and finally do what they’re going to do.
The subject at hand is the worst kind of relationship PTSD, with Amy Seimetz’ frail performance as the emotional core of the movie. AJ Bowen, who is unforgettable in an indie horror triptych called The Signal, is the movie’s id, once again balancing a fine line between funny and gruesome. But the real star of this movie is Wingard’s bold camerawork. The handheld camera sways and struggles to find focus, like someone waking up from a dream, trying to find her bearings. If you want your camera on sticks for 90 minutes, with maybe the occasionally dolly shot and a crane shot right before the credits, you will hate A Horrible Way to Die. But if you accept that a camera is just as much a part of telling a story as a script or a performance, then A Horrible Way to Die is a provocative horror movie about three characters and how the director shoots them.
A Horrible Way to Die is available on Netflix here. I heartily recommend the gorgeous Blu-ray version.
(In case you’re wondering what this is, it’s my opportunity to recommend obscure horror films that you otherwise might have missed. I consider this a year-round job, but what better time to do it daily than the two weeks leading up to Halloween?)