Tag: joe swanberg

A Horrible Way to Die


A Horrible Way to Die (2010)
★ / ★★★★

Sarah (Amy Seimetz) recently joined Alcoholics Anonymous. On her first day, which happens to be the third month of her sobriety, she meets Kevin (Joe Swanberg). He claims he wants to get to know her outside of AA. She admires his honesty and figures she can use a little bit of that positive quality in her life. The two go on a date and everything goes swimmingly. Meanwhile, Sarah’s ex-boyfriend, Garrick (AJ Bowen), escapes from prison. We learned that when he was still with Sarah, whenever they weren’t together, he killed to feed his addiction for flesh. His motivation to get out of prison, it seems, is to see his ex-girlfriend and claim her as his most priced victim.

Written by Simon Barrett and directed by Adam Wingard, “A Horrible Way to Die” has some good ideas and rather solid twists before the closing chapter, but the muddled cinematography takes away the little power that the picture has going for it.

We spend a lot of personal time observing Sarah and Kevin. We watch them meet, exchange smiles out of politeness which soon changed into something genuine, go on their first date, and the first time they have sex. But the camera shakes so relentlessly and dizzyingly for no good reason whatsoever. It feels like we are watching a first take as the cameramen and director attempt to adjust the lighting and make sure that the microphones are in their proper places. By moving the camera in such a way, the connection between the characters and audiences are disrupted. Instead of engaging us in a flow, it becomes a difficult and frustrating watch. Because of its presentation, the material appears unprofessional.

Sarah has a lot of self-esteem issues which is rooted in her struggle against alcohol addiction and is perpetuated by news that her serial killer ex-boyfriend is on the loose. The camera should have been still so that we are allowed to look her in the eyes and infer some of the questions that might pop into her head. This is her journey and I wasn’t convinced that the filmmakers were aware of that. If they did, the least they could have done is to get the technical issues right so the audience can focus on the story.

The writing needs revision because it fails to incorporate two of Sarah’s monsters: the alcoholism and the ex-boyfriend. Although flashbacks are provided so that we can get a sense of our protagonist’s history, there is no effort from behind the camera to put them together in way that makes sense. Obviously, drugs can be a source of addiction but what are the similarities between a drug and a bad relationship? Instead of exploring this question, the filmmakers hands us random scenes like Sarah thinking about Garrick when she touches herself at night. What does that have to do with anything?

“A Horrible Way to Die” lacks a bridge between drama and horror/thriller so the emotions on screen feel like a sham. The whole charade would have been laughable, not just maddening, if it wasn’t such a frustrating chore to sit through.

Nights and Weekends


Nights and Weekends (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

Mattie (Greta Gerwig) and James (Joe Swanberg) were in a long-distance relationship. Mattie resided in New York while James lived in Chicago. They tried to visit each other once in a while but there was a limit to how much effort they could put into their relationship when distance was clearly an issue. Written and directed by the two leads, “Nights and Weekends” had an excellent first half but fairly weak second half. The first half focused on the romance between James and Mattie. We learned things about them which ranged from the impersonal, like their jobs and the careers they would like to have, to more important details such as whether they would be happy if they turned out like their parents. We got a feel of their personalities. James was patient, a bit of a hopeless romantic, and he didn’t see himself as physically attractive but that didn’t stop him from projecting confidence to the world because he had a mental picture of a more attractive version of himself. Meanwhile, Mattie was adorable but a bit needy. Unlike James, she was more than willing to voice out what she thought was disgusting like when her boyfriend ate the dark brown area of a banana. When she was annoyed, she expressed it. For instance, she didn’t like the fact that she was left in the hall for ten measly minutes because James had to drop something off at work. Yet she was the one who didn’t want to meet his co-workers because she thought it might be awkward. Strangely enough, which is uncommon when it comes to romantic dramas, I related more with the male. Nevertheless, I wanted to see their relationship succeed because, despite the occasional tension between them, they were a very good fit for each other. But then there was a jump forward in time. Everything felt awkward. The tone it established prior was thrown out the window. It was unclear whether Mattie and James were even in a relationship. There was even a heavy-handed metaphor that involved Mattie trying to water plants, a symbol of her attempt to sustain their so-called relationship, but the plants wouldn’t absorb the water. I wondered what happened to the film’s naturalistic approach, something I found very charming and interesting, like the directors’ brazen decision to not reshoot when the actors stumbled over their lines. I liked the picture most when it captured real life. Sometimes our tongues just can’t keep up with our thoughts and we’re embarrassed in the fact that we’re not as eloquent as we would like especially when we’re trying to get a point across. But we continue and pretend that we didn’t make a blunder. I craved the realism it effortlessly seemed to have. Ultimately, the positive outweighed the negative. I admired that the film allowed its characters, in their twenties, to be immature, sometimes shallow, and consumed by their neuroses. The relationship didn’t have to be particularly meaningful or special because Mattie and James were still searching for who they were.