Style, substance and some kick-ass performances can take any flick in even a tired genre and infuse new life. Such is the case with the amazing and moody new serial killer themed "A Horrible Way To Die," out on Blu-ray Sept. 6 from Anchor Bay Films. It’s a picture that parallels powerful work like John McNaughton’s "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" in terms of its gritty and memorable realism. Plus the film features some amazing acting, especially lead AJ Bowen who portrays disturbed mass-murderer Gerrick Turrell. The only problem with the five-star Blu-ray is that even though there are a few features (commentary and making-of), much desired insight from the effective AJ is nowhere to be found, but no worries as Starpulse has got you covered. Following our review is an exclusive one-on-one chat with up-and-coming talent AJ Bowen (who in person is the nicest, funniest guy – go figure!), who talks about creating the complexities of Garrick Turrell, his approach to the dark subject matter and what’s next for the notable actor – it would be horrible to miss this one!
Title: "A Horrible Way To Die"
Cast: AJ Bowen, Amy Seimetz, Joe Swanberg
Director: Adam Wingard
Runtime: 87 minutes
Release Company: Anchor Bay Entertainment
The Flick: What seems like yet another serial killer flick is exceptionally elevated by various five-star factors. The stylistic, yet barren direction by Adam Wingard does what’s John McNaughton did for "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer," namely adds urgency and realism without showing any of the actual acts of deviance. Not to mention that his leading lady Amy Seimetz is a fantastic and layered character with demons of her own. But first and foremost it’s the silent but deadly brooding work of AJ Bowen as disturbed mass murderer Garrick Turrell that adds light to the darkness within – truly frightening and thought provoking work all at the same time. (Rooker would be proud Bowen!)
Best Feature: The 'Behind the Scenes' featurette does provide a fly-on-the-wall perspective of shooting the flick that’s as good as being on set! (But for those who demand the missing AJ insight – see below!)
Best Hidden Gem: Obviously the unassuming, but standout performance by AJ Bowen – a must see.
Worth the Moola: In a myriad of mindless murder movies, it would be a horrible thing to dismiss this diamond in the rough.
And now for those who demand it (like us!) here is further insight via Garrick Turrell himself...
ACTOR AJ BOWEN!
So how did you come to play the deranged Garrick Turrell in A Horrible Way To Die?
AJ Bowen: I was actually in the middle of shooting "Hatchet II" and I went to this screening of Beware the Moon about the making of "American Werewolf in London." So a bunch of us went to the New Beverly in LA and a friend of mine said, ‘I’ve got this buddy who we made a movie with, this guy’s a writer and we made three parts of this anthology and there’s a forth part we want to do and I’d like to send you the first three parts to take a look at – it’s directed by a guy named Adam Wingard.’ I said sure I’d take a look at it and I got in the mail this DVD that that says written in sharpie "Date Rape Movie Parts One, Two and Three" – okay. So I put it on and within about fifteen or twenty seconds of the very beginning of that movie I paused it and called my friend Evan and said, ‘I don't know what this is about – but I’d love to work on this.’ It was just so stylized and striking and seemed really interesting. And he said, ‘Cool alright, but Adam has this other thing he’s getting ready to shoot and would it be okay if I sent you the script to that?’ So he sort of backdoored me a little bit, but it was the script for "A Horrible Way To Die."
I read it and I’d played a heavy guy a couple of times before and wasn’t interested in doing it again for a while – I needed a break from it. It was just really gnarly; on paper originally Garrick was getting off on the violence he was committing and I didn't think there was anything I could do with it that would be interesting. But Adam and I talked for a while and we started talking about serial killers and we’d both just read this book that one of Ted Bundy’s ex-girlfriends had written. We were talking about how we were both really interested in the concept of the duality with these sociopaths, like he seemed like such a nice guy and he lived next door to me and I had no idea he was eating human brains. So that seemed interesting to both of us and I ended up agreeing to do it thinking it would happen some time down the road – I was in Missouri shooting that movie eight days after that phone conversation.
Your particular serial killer is both calm and seems to have general remorse and woe for his victims – was this a personal choice?
AJ: Absolutely. What was interesting to me is what if there was someone who was aware they were doing these things and hates doing them. Like alcoholics that keep trying to stop, but just can't. Thinking that they’re gonna be able to not drink and from there I was like what if this guy desperately doesn't want to do this? He can't really talk to anybody about it, he can't go get help, so the only thing he can do is to die or get caught. Getting caught is probably the happiest day of Garrick’s life because he can stop living more than one life and he couldn’t hurt people anymore. It’s a story about addiction and the cost of selfishness and selfish behavior.
What is it about Amy Seimetz’s character Sarah that has such a hold and affection for a person like Garrick?
AJ: It’s really important for me as a storyteller and actor to not judge the characters that I play and to that end it’s kind of tricky when you’re playing a serial killer. We wanted to make clear that Garrick was whole for the most part, fulfilled with Sarah, was an excellent boyfriend and partner to her, but there was an addiction that he had, a compulsion he couldn’t control. So instead of control he tried to manage and keep it from her because he loved her and that was the anchor, the only good thing in his life. Sarah would have no reason to not be with Garrick – he’s a great partner, except the small problem that he goes out at night and kills people.
I talked to you on the "Hatchet II" set and you're a very cordial and jovial guy – were you still like that while paying Garrick or did you go more character method?
AJ: When I hear this concept of method, which I know is based Russian Stanislavski style, I don’t really engage in that – I think that’s kind of mentally unhealthy. So I tend to do a lot of prep outside and when we’re shooting we’re shooting, but when they call cut I’m not walking around thinking I’m a serial killer. But on this one there was a lot of the movie where I was shooting alone. When I wasn’t there were a lot of college students that would come on and do a day, specifically female, and I would show up and be like, ‘Hi, I’m AJ, I’m gonna be choking you out today – how’s school going?!’ (Laughs) I can't speak for other people, but it gets to be really depressing and after a while it does take an emotional toll on you.
Did you have to go to dark places to conjure up such a dark person – what was your process in creating the character?
AJ: I think the trick is that in comedy try to find the darkness and in darkness to try to find the humor and the things that Garrick was doing were dark enough. That world had a very black face, so the entire goal then becomes to try your best to humanize this monster. Because he’s still a human being, so trying to figure out how to create a human pathos that could get there. Not make people empathize for Garrick, but trying to make them understand how someone that could seemingly be normal can take three steps in the wrong direction with a messed up brain and commit horrible atrocities. To make that believable you end up having to parallel inherently selfish behavior and compulsions – we’ve all had some form of that. Taking out the acts that are extreme and replacing them with things that are less stark was the way that I went.
The way the film is shot is not only stylistic but also heavily enhanced your already stellar work – what was Adam like as a director?
AJ: Everything that we did was a very different experience for me. It kind of broke me and changed my approach to performance. Adam wanted to treat the camera as it's own character – something that was in the room with us. That was actually incredibly freeing as a performer. Some of my favorite stuff that we got to do between Amy and I was when the camera was just focused on something incidental in the room. It forces you to completely key into the other person in a way that more technical filmmaking doesn't allow for – that only helped.
Was it just me or was there a little joy and excitement within in your morose performance in Ti West’s "The House of the Devil?"
AJ: (Laughs) I guess that makes me sound hypocritical! But I did have a very specific thing with that movie. Those things that guy was doing were bad enough, but how do you play that? So I decided to take the approach of, I don't know if Ti thought I was an idiot, I wanted to play it as a guy who was like a child on Christmas Eve. My rationalization for that was this guy is a Satanist and he believes that he’s about to bring Satan onto earth. So I wanted to take a childlike approach to that guy.
I loved your performance and final ending in "Hatchet II" – was that a fun scene to shoot?
AJ: What do you think? That on paper started out as about a fourth of a page and Alexis and I had met three hours before we started shooting that. It’s one if those things that’s awkward in the lead up to doing it, but once your shooting that scene you kind of have to throw everything out the window and fully commit. Adam Green was really interested in us playing with it, so something that started out as a fourth of a page ended up being a couple of pages because we ended up improvising everything and it got longer and longer. I’m almost thirty-four and I can tell you by the sixth hour of shooting that scene when they called cut, Alexis and I would collapse on top of each other. My quads were killing me – no endurance shooting that thing for fourteen hours! (Laughs) That being said it was a really nice way to get worn out!
I know you recently worked with Danielle Harris as a director on "Among Friends" – what was that experience like?
AJ: Dani is actually one of my best friends and she called me and asked me if I would do this movie with her cause she was going to direct it. And I was like yeah, of course. That was a blast - it was fun to go make something that was definitely ‘movie’ style. It’s a horror comedy, definitely more comedy than horror, like a version of "Clue." It’s set as a murder mystery dinner with an 80’s prom theme and it’s about a group of old friends that show up to do that and they end up stuck around a dinner table together and finding out a lot of things that they had done to each other behind each other’s backs. Dani has been making movies for twenty-seven years, so she knows how to treat the actors and how to let them live in the moment in front of the camera – I trust her completely and it was a joy.
Your work just keeps getting better and better, so I’m super curious to know what’s next for you?
AJ: Thank you, man – you certainly have low standards! I did a movie about six years ago now called "The Signal" and I made it with college friends for fifty thousand dollars and we were really fortunate with that movie that it went to Sundance and got picked up. And some of us have gotten back together and that’s what I’m doing now. We’re making a movie with some of the core group of that, but it’s not a genre picture but a time travel love story.
A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE HITS BLU-RAY/DVD ON SEPT. 6 FROM ANCHOR BAY ENTERTAINMENT