A Horrible Way to Die reminded me, in many ways, of the French-Dutch film, Spoorloos (or The Vanishing, to English audiences); more character study than straight up horror film. Through its characters, it examines the means by which violence twines its way into the lives of many, connecting them in unexpected and often tragic ways.
Sarah is a recovering alcoholic trying to move forward with her life, even beginning a new relationship with a fellow group member, the endearingly awkward Kevin. We learn much of Sarah's history through flashbacks and, as her ex-boyfriend, convicted serial killer Garrick Turrell, escapes from prison, her past barrels inexorably into her present and future.
At times, the film seems to drag a little, but these slower moments are like troughs in an unsteady sea, luring the viewer into a false sense of security only to jar you with a swell of violence. Still, the violence is restrained. The terror here is psychological. Most violence is shown only after the fact in sudden, gory flashes that barely allow you to process what you've seen. It's an effective strategy that makes A Horrible Way to Die a more accessible film than the average slasher flick.
Glancing at other reviews of the film, I notice that a common criticism is its shaky camera shots. It is true that the unsteady camera sometimes goes too far, dipping from stylish to annoying, but I personally found that the documentary look served to imbue the film with a stark, cold realism. The overworking of the camera's focus ring, however, did often feel intrusive and could have been toned way down.
Overall, I was impressed with writer Simon Barrett's and director Adam Wingard's film and look forward to seeing their latest, You're Next. A Horrible Way to Die is an intelligent horror-thriller that successfully creates tension through tone and mood rather than violence and gore.