Thursday, June 20, 2013
30 Days of Nightmares #20: A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE (2010)
The Story: A serial killer escapes from prison and makes his way toward his ex-girlfriend, who is struggling to cope with the revelation that he is a murderer.
Expectations: This film got some pretty significant buzz at the 2010 Fantastic Fest in Austin, and director Adam Wingard seems to be a name that horror fans are watching closely. That was reason enough for me to sit down and watch the film... in spite of my general lack of enthusiasm for the serial killer subgenre.
Reaction: In the early 90s, I was rattled by a cheap, direct-to-video biopic about Jeffrey Dahmer. It wasn't a good movie, but there was something so surprising about the way the story was told -- focusing on the mundane details of the killer's everyday life -- that I took note. Around the same time, I read a biography of Ted Bundy that was written by a woman who knew him. The author said that she never would have guessed that Bundy was a serial killer. He seemed too... polite. According to her, he even had relatively normal relationships with women (the ones he didn't kill...).
Stories like these made me think that being a serial killer must be like being possessed; that there's something mysterious inside just waiting to get out. Most of the time that thing remains hidden, and most people don't even know it's there... but, I figured, the monster must know that it's a monster. I figured that the worst part of being Dahmer or Bundy must be living with the knowledge that they were monsters.
I'm not sure I believe that anymore. Today, I tend to think that sociopaths are emotionally insulated from the damage they inflict. Their warped nature protects them from understanding how selfish and cruel they are. And maybe, because of that, the people closest to them -- family members, friends, even spouses -- are less likely to see the truth. And maybe they suffer twice as much when they finally realize it.
These are not usually the type of thoughts that a serial killer movie prompts. In my experience, this subgenre generally asks the audience to identify with the would-be victim (in order to experience the thrill of escape) or with the cop chasing the killer (in order to experience the thrill of the hunt), and doesn't give much serious thought to a killer's loved ones. A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE isn't a film about hunting or escaping, nor is it as exploitative as the title implies. It's a character study.
Unfortunately, it's not a terribly compelling character study. The main characters are depressed people living unremarkable lives... and they all seem to be on the exact same predestined collision course. In fact, I was so convinced that I knew where this film was headed that I almost turned it off.... which would have been a mistake, because the last 15 mintues are the most interesting part of the movie. If only it had started there...
Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: The image that will stick with me the most is a guy getting stabbed through the chin. When he opens his mouth to scream, the blade is visible inside. Within the context of most horror movies, this image would have seemed ridiculously gimmicky. In this film, it seems real.
Labels: 30 Days of Nightmares