And yet, this one has something most mumblecore does not: an actual story. The loose structure of mumblecore feels like on-the-fly moviemaking: continual bobbing of the handheld camera, zooming without worrying about pulling focus, unobstructed views of Swanberg’s penis. Here, director Adam Wingard (“Pop Skull”) sacrifices shots of full-frontal Swanberg. In its place: in-your-face Swanberg ass crack.
He plays Kevin, who meets and falls for Sarah (Amy Seimetz, “Tiny Furniture”), a fellow recovering alcoholic. She’s not quite ready for a new relationship, still working out issues from her previous one with Garrick (AJ Bowen, “The House of the Devil”). He’s a serial killer who’s now escaped from prison and on the lookout for her.
Bowen brings intensity and menace to his role, carving out a new path of victims as he makes his way toward Sarah. Seimetz plays fragile well, and Swanberg is much more agreeable onscreen when he’s not the central character (and when he keeps the genitals away from the camera’s gaze).
Visually, Wingard excels. You can see the care crafted in getting many scenes to shine (and even literally sparkle), despite the film’s low budget and short schedule. It kept me interested through the first hour, until the script by Simon Barrett (“Red Sands”) can’t keep up the quality; the final 30-minute stretch tried my patience with dragged feet that shuffle toward conventionality, which Wingard otherwise manages to avoid.
If anyone is to benefit from “A Horrible Way to Die,” it’s Wingard. He’s a talent to watch. —Rod Lott