Burrowing past the lurid body-count particulars, A Horrible Way to Die examines the psychological trauma wrought by a serial killer, Garrick Turrell (A.J. Bowen), on the living—namely himself and his ex-girlfriend, Sarah (Amy Seimetz). The movie fades between Garrick’s murderous jailbreak and Sarah’s attempts to sober up under witness protection; though she was the one who turned him in, no one appears to have apprised Sarah of Garrick’s escape, so we glimpse her mostly in slow-recovery mode, tentatively entering into a romance with fellow AA member Kevin (Joe Swanberg). Also interspersed are occasional flashbacks to when Garrick and Sarah lived together, scenes consisting mostly of the former’s genial excuses for why he’s leaving the house in the dead of night. Taking a cue from the cast of rattled characters, the handheld camera twitches nervously around rooms—often draped with Christmas lights, which blur into abstraction in the foreground—while the droning score overwhelms the wintertime exteriors. Bowen in particular stands out, impressively describing Garrick’s hairpin turns from comforting his victims to instinctively throttling them, but director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett exhibit less facility with the big picture. Garrick, it seems, is a cult figure—while behind bars he received an unprecedented amount of fan mail, and his Facebook fan page has “a membership in the hundreds of thousands,” according to overheard TV news reports. By making these absurd connections between Garrick and the sick-fuck society-at-large, A Horrible Way to Die gradually undermines the creepy intimacy that had distinguished it.
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