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.