A Necessary Death

"Excellent"

A Necessary Death Review


Writer/director Daniel Stamm's A Necessary Death takes the character-as-cameraman approach of Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead and applies it to a more intimate horror story -- the story of a suicide. The result is a gripping tale that raises troubling questions about the nature of art and our voyeuristic society.

The film begins with the conceit that we are watching footage shot by Daniel (Daniel Stamm), the roommate of film student Gilbert (Gilbert John), who has decided on an unusual subject for his thesis project. Gilbert puts an ad in the paper saying he wants to film a person who has decided to kill themselves, from preparations until the final act. Daniel agrees to shoot the making of said film.

The premise plays out with disturbingly plausible results, the first of which being that Gilbert gets plenty of responses. With the help of a reluctant but morbidly curious crew, including sound technician Valerie (Valerie Hunt) and cinematographer Michael (Michael Traynor), he whittles down the applicants to one promising candidate, Matt (Matt Tilley), who has opted for suicide over a slow, painful death from cancer.

As the crew gets to know Matt, they have greater difficulty with the moral quandaries their task implies. Should they notify his loved ones of his plans? How should they feel about potential financial success from this endeavor? How do they deal with his stepsister Konima (Konima Parkinson-Jones) whom Matt has told and who is none too happy with him, much less the crew?

With all of these quagmires in play, the plot throws a few curveballs towards the end that plunge the crew into even murkier ethical waters, building to a chilling finale.

Part of the power of the film comes from detailed storytelling. Stamm cuts no corners, treating the premise realistically -- Gilbert meets with a lawyer before he begins, gets his ad pulled from Craigslist, fights for the project's acceptance by his school, and deals with the financial woes that plague all student filmmakers.

Ironically, the tight plotting is supported by a lot of improvisation. As in another shot-by-the-characters film, The Blair Witch Project, the actors share their characters' first names to facilitate creating dialogue on the fly. The natural flow that results within each scene adds to the realism. And in a film full of strong performances, Parkinson-Jones in particular depicts Konima's frustration and sense of betrayal with visceral rage.

Cinematographer Zoltan Honti employs a realistically sloppy shooting style that, in addition to the low-tech 4:3 aspect ratio, convinces you that you're watching amateurs in action.

By simply allowing things to progress as they probably would under such sketchy circumstances, Stamm manages to raise pointed questions without hitting the audience over the head. Are there subjects that simply cannot or should not be documented? How far can you go as a documentarian before you become complicit in your subject's outcome? When are you, in fact, obligated to become complicit? What, if any, profit can you guiltlessly make from someone else's misery?

As you might imagine, A Necessary Death does not answer any of these questions, leaving you to ponder what you might do under similar circumstances, which brings up what is, perhaps, the most troubling question of all: If you knew this film were real, would you still watch?

Reviewed at the 2008 SXSW Film Festival.



A Necessary Death

Facts and Figures

Run time: 101 mins

In Theaters: Saturday 8th March 2008

Distributed by: Brickwall Productions

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 83%
Fresh: 10 Rotten: 2

IMDB: 6.8 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Daniel Stamm

Producer: Brian Udovich, G.J. Echternkamp

Starring: G.J. Echternkamp as Gilbert, Matthew Tilley as Matt, Valerie Hurt as Valerie, as Michael, Konima Parkinson-Jones as Konima, Shelley Isaacs as Grieving Mother, Thomas Moses as Cliff Bookends, Pamela Salem as Matt's Mother, Doris Jung Usui as Suicidal Wife

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