THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
"A NECESSARY DEATH"
Before he directed the hit The Last Exorcism, director Daniel Stamm made an independent feature called A Necessary Death. Now available on DVD and VOD, it is an inventive and provocative film that draws you in immediately and then proceeds to shake you up for over 90 minutes. If forced to classify it, I suppose that “thriller” would be the most accurate term; at the same time, A Necessary Death has more depth than the word “thriller” typically brings to mind. Yes, it is suspenseful, but mainly because it deals with some very real, very dark human emotions.
Gilbert John plays Gilbert, a young documentary filmmaker working on his film school thesis project. He wants to make a movie about suicide by following the final weeks of someone who is planning on killing him/herself. After auditioning and rejecting several prospects, he meets Matt (Matthew Tilly), a nice guy suffering from a terminal disease. Matt agrees to be the subject of the documentary. Gilbert's production team – cameraman Michael (Michael Traynor) and sound operator Valerie (Valerie Hurt) – raise a multitude of questions about the ethics of this project. Gilbert has a way of assuaging their fears (and, quite possibly, talking himself into something he knows deep down is morally questionable). As filming rolls on, a number of obstacles present themselves, including some holes in Matt's story. Gilbert presses forward, and things build to a startling denouement.
Making this plot even more tense is that A Necessary Death is presented as cinema verite, with Gilbert's friend making a documentary about the making of his documentary. Having another person record Matt's suicidal preparations, while remaining one level detached from the unfolding drama, gives the movie an additional eerie quality. If what Gilbert is doing is unethical, what about the other guy?
Suicide is, of course, a very uncomfortable subject. It can be difficult to understand the thought process that leads someone to decide to take their own life. A Necessary Death plays on this. At every turn, your stomach grows queasy with the knowledge that Gilbert may indirectly be motivating Matt to follow through with his plan when, ideally, he should be getting the man help. And with each justification Gilbert pulls out of his hat, you realize that death is looming closer and closer. Through the process, A Necessary Death also explores whether a person has the right to choose when/how they die. As Matt says, he can spend his final weeks in agonizing pain, or he can check out before having to endure that. There's a super-creepy scene in which the gang watches the very real “Final Exit” video that provides instruction on how to commit suicide. Its basis in a genuine hot-button topic fuels the suspense. Stamm brings authentic ideas into his story. Unlike a lot of thrillers, A Necessary Death does not rely on manufactured suspense. Instead, it presents an uncomfortable subject, then forces you to stare directly at it. I was kind of a nervous wreck when it was over.
The one thing I'm not sure about is the shock ending. As I watched it, I had chills. When I thought about it afterward, I wasn't entirely sure it held up; it seemed that there might not have been enough justification for what happens. Reflecting back a few hours later, I changed my mind again. I mean, this is a thriller, and the ending delivers exactly the kind of jolt a film in this genre needs. Also, justifying it too much in advance might have tipped the audience off to what was going to happen. I can go either way on it, but the point is that uncertainty is a major part of what makes A Necessary Death so compelling. There are no easy or obvious answers. Just questions upon questions.
The performances are uniformly naturalistic and believable. Stamm also gets credit for his staging; this doesn't feel like a carefully-designed “found footage” movie, but rather a genuine article. A Necessary Death will make you squirm and think in equal measure. For my money, that makes it a picture worth paying attention to.
A Necessary Death is now available on iTunes.
A Necessary Death is unrated but contains language and some blood. The running time is 1 hour and 41 minutes.
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