An earnest stab at nonexploitative horror strongly reminiscent of "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer."

Luridly titled “A Horrible Way to Die” is an earnest stab at nonexploitative horror strongly reminiscent of “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” in theme and bleak atmosphere — though not, alas, in disturbing impact. Where helmer Adam Wingard’s prior “Pop Skull” used a jittery style to convey its delusional, possibly meth-addled protagonist’s mindset, here, too much handheld camera wobble and wavering image focus only alienate the viewer from this somewhat sluggish tale. Prospects beyond niche horror fests and DVD exposure look slim.

Crosscutting between characters and time periods immediately establishes Garrick (Al Bowen) as a notorious abductor and murderer (mostly of young women) unable to resist his compulsion despite seizures of guilt afterward. Meanwhile dental hygienist Sarah (Amy Seimetz) has newly arrived in a nondescript heartland town. Flashbacks reveal the two were live-in mates not long before, she oblivious to his secret activities — though drinking heavily to erase doubts — until an awful discovery was made. Now as she’s wooed by a fellow AA member (Joe Swanberg), Garrick escapes prison and renews his carnage. Perfs are decent; OK script’s late major twist enlivens while also creating plausibility and contrivance issues.

A Horrible Way to Die

Production

A Celluloid Nightmares and Site B presentation of a Two Squirrels/Snowfort Pictures/Arabel Entertainment production in association with TTOB Prods. and Arable Entertainment. (International sales: Celluloid Nightmares, Marina de Rey.) Produced by Travis Stevens, Simon Barrett, Kim Sherman. Executive producer, Zak Zeman. Directed, edited by Adam Wingard. Screenplay, Simon Barrett.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Wingard; music, Jasper Justice Leigh; music supervisors, Travis Stevens, Kim Sherman, Wingard, Barrett; art director, Flynn Thomas Smith. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Vanguard), Sept. 11, 2010. Running time: 87 MIN.

With

Amy Seimetz, AJ Bowen, Joe Swanberg, Brandon Carroll, Lane Hughes.

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