FEATURE: Shocktober - A Horrible Way To Die

Over the course of October, I shall be watching one horror movie a day and reviewing it right here for your reading pleasure. I haven't seen any of the films I'll be watching before and you can find the full list here.

Serial killers are very old hat now when it comes to horrors, thrillers and chillers, but there's still the odd film that crops up every now and again to bring something new to this particular character brand. A Horrible Way to Die attempts this by presenting AJ Bowen's very domestic serial killer, Garrick Turrell (something which has also recently been explored in Stephen King's A Good Marriage and the short story on which it is based) and his relationship with his girlfriend. Played by Amy Seimetz, Sarah is an alcoholic whose drunken state ensures a lack of awareness when it comes to her boyfriend's violent moonlighting. Their addictions and the conflicts that result are paralleled throughout the film; his for killing women, hers for the bottle.

The performances elevate the film somewhat, rising out of the dullness by giving these characters a real sense of dimension. Seimetz in particular is excellent as the fractured and downtrodden Sarah. Her tentative romance with a fellow alcoholic from her meetings, played by Joe Swanberg, is disarmingly sweet at first and their sense of shared difficulties adds an extra layer of pathos. As the serial killer at the centre of the piece, AJ Bowen is all the more sinister because of how non-threatening he appears to be

There are a few successful attempts to make strong links between Garrick and Sarah's respective trials and tribulations. When he is preparing to make his escape from the police car transporting him, the film segues into Sarah's lunch date with Swanberg's Kevin, her attempt to escape from her old relationship into a new one. However, overall, the film is rather hackneyed in its approach, stumbling around without any sense of urgency or purpose. The minimalist score seems designed to do exactly this, but the film is too quiet, too fractured for it to have any effect.

When the violence does come, it's a bit of a relief and the ending does go some way to elevating what has gone before. There's a couple of twists in there, one that I saw coming very early on and another that I missed completely. That final switcheroo is neatly done and ties together the somewhat disparate story threads to resolve the film in a satisfying manner. It's a shame then that this same creativity isn't consistent throughout and it never really goes anywhere with the links between the respective addictions of Sarah and Garrick which is where my primary interest lay.

I'm all for grim and bleak, as you'll have seen over the course of this month, and my tolerance for slow-burners is pretty high. But there has to be something to latch on to within that, which this film can't provide. There's shades of the wit and inventiveness that Wingard and Barrett would later bring to You're Next and one of this year's finest films, The Guest (and I suspect I've been somewhat spoiled by the latter), but the experimentation with narrative staples here doesn't feel as assured, nor as effective.

- Becky

You can check out the full list of Shocktober reviews so far here.

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