United States. 87 minutes. Directed by Adam Wingard, 2010. Starring Amy Siemetz, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Lane Hughes.

Garrick Turrell (AJ Bowen) is a serial killer who escapes from prison. His ex-girlfriend, Sarah (Amy Siemetz) is a recovering alcoholic who has moved to a new town with an eye to starting over. Shaky-cam and numerous out-of-focus shots ensue.

Once I was innocent and I foolishly believed that Adam Wingard couldn’t possibly produce a more excruciating cinematic experience than Pop Skull.

Boy, was I wrong!

The camera is almost never pointed at the thing it’s supposed to be pointed at and is constantly shaking and often out-of-focus. I could buy that if there was a good reason for that, or for that matter, if I could pretend I thought there was a good reason for that. But Wingard seems to use these techniques only as a method for calling attention to himself, the cinematic equivalent of screaming at the audience. “Look at me! I’m so naturalistic and indie! See that guy? That’s Joe Swanberg!”

Then there’s Simon Barrett’s obnoxiously-structured script, which lurches back and forth between present-day and flashback seemingly at random and with very little regard for context. Even with a couple of handy visual reference points, I still found it difficult to figure out whether any given scene was set in the present or past. The characterization is seemingly nonexistent, with none of the characters–up to, and including, Garrett and Sarah–making much of an impression.

Not that any of that matters, because none of the members of the cast (most of whom come from Wingard’s figurative rep company, such as Bowen, Siemetz, Joe Swanberg and Lane Hughes, all of whom had large roles in Wingard’s next horror flick, You’re Next) put in anything even remotely approaching an acceptable performance. They’re barely characters; they’re more like mannequins with dubbed voices. This is particularly disappointing with Bowen (The Signal, The House of the Devil) and Siemetz (Upstream Color), both of whom can do so much better.

Between the overuse of mumblecore camera tricks, the plot that lurches randomly between present-day and flashback, the flat characters and the limp performances, this is a hard film to watch, even harder to follow and nigh-impossible to care about. A Horrible Way to Die has almost nothing to recommend it.


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