"It's not that I want to die. It's just that I don't want to live anymore."
The "story" of filmmaker Daniel Stamm is one that is starting to become irritating and all-too-common within the unhallowed hills of Hollywood. A Necessary Death, his found footage film debut, made the festival rounds and captured all kinds of attention, including that of hack Eli Roth. In conjunction with Strike Entertainment, Roth hooked Stamm up with the gig of directing The Last Exorcism, another found footage film, this time with far less brains and more cheap theatrics. And like so many other directors, whose knack for low budget and unique ideas was wasted on brainless studio fare, Stamm, too, was instead assigned to a generic project that was entirely beneath him. After first watching The Last Exorcism, I was merely disappointed by what as only an overly hyped film. But now, after watching A Necessary Death, I look at Exorcism not just as a bad film, but as a huge waste of time, money, and resources, all of which could have been used on a different project for which Stamm had more interest and passion.
A Necessary Death is not only remarkable, but the most realistic found footage movie I've ever seen. Though it would not be traditionally considered a horror movie, the fact that this narrative could very well have been a real documentary is what truly provides the audience with all the horror it could ever need. In this day and age, in which the curious could literally log onto Youtube and watch real people dying real deaths; and in this time where everything needs to be recorded on video and released to the masses, whether that be journalists being beheaded by terrorists, or a man's face being eaten off on a Florida street, A Necessary Death could literally have been released and marketed as a 100% real documentary and I doubt it would have caused any sort of uproar. It's this kind of demonizing, yet desensitization, to death and dying that has driven our filmmaker/lead character, a college student named Gilbert, to carry out his vision: to capture, from first realization to final act, a person's suicide. It is the very kind of ego-inflated, self-important, pretentious idea that any college student might have, which makes it all the more believable.
After a series of open interviews, in which candidates vie to be the focus of Gilbert's film, he and his crew settle on a kid named Mathew, who is dying from an untreatable brain condition and has opted to end his life before encountering the condition's very painful final stages. After Gilbert explains the "point" of the documentary to Mathew - to strip away the taboo and baggage associated with suicide and show that the person who wants to end their life is completely cognizant of their decision - Mathew agrees to be the focal point.
Like all things in life, God laughs as we make plans, and what started off as a peculiar but straightforward project eventually becomes anything but. It all unfolds strikingly realistically, and except for one or two sequences that reek too much of narrative, it never comes across as blatantly cinematic. Meaning, if a person had told me to watch the movie and told me it was real, I would have believed that person...that is until the ending.
A Necessary Death is an amazing debut from a young filmmaker. It is a highly emotional journey, as the characters onscreen are just as affected by the events as the movie's audience. We understand, condone, root for, and then eventually despise Gilbert. His transformation is as obvious and dark as the unfolding events of the film. A slightly arrogant but ultimately likeable young student (who goes as far as alerting social services after two young girls come to his suicide candidate interview, which shows that he does have a conscience), eventually devolves into the very thing you may have sensed was inevitable, but definitely hoped was not unavoidable. It very much captures very real people experiencing very real conflicts and emotions in conjunction with the project. And the scenes consisting of Mathew and the film crew visiting Mathew's mother, and lying to her as to why Mathew is the focus of their documentary, is especially heartbreaking. We as the audience cannot help but put ourselves in Mathew's shoes. We can't help but wonder how it would seem if that were our mother, or father, or grandmother or grandfather - someone who cared for us and loved us and would die a thousand times before we ever experienced pain - and wonder if we would ever be able to wear that fake smile and tell that lie without breaking down in front of them.
The actors are all incredibly wonderful and real, especially Mathew. He isn't the slobbering mess our preconceived notions of a suicidal person may fool us into expecting. He is a kid who happens to be dying, and who very calmly has made a decision based on his own needs and desires. He's not just some sad sack who is heartbroken over a bad break-up, or who feels the world is a cruel place. Ironically, he is a kid who would actually prefer to live - who shows signs of being happy with who he is and the life he so far has lived - but who understands that his proverbial ticket has already been punched.
Gilber, too, is real, and likeable, though marginally less so than Mathew. Because he is the person endeavoring to capture a death on camera, by default you approach him with great caution. Though the movie takes great pains to paint him as an equally sympathetic person, who looks at his project as a way of waking up the masses and forcing them to see that suicide shouldn't be this shameful thing we hide away in our subconscious, the movie relents that because it is providing us with this character, we will never be 100% behind him. But we do want him to succeed. It's a very dangerous gamble to make, as how the audience approaches and responds to the film rests entirely on Gilbert's ability to be a sympathetic character. Luckily, he does.
The rest of the supporting cast, one of whom ultimately derails the the project once they become a bit too close to the film's subject, all do a great job at playing their roles exactly as they should be playing them. They aren't entirely comfortable with the film's topic, though they agree what is being captured is important. At several times throughout the film they all sort of tag up at first to remind Gilbert and the audience that though they're driven to continue, they are hesitant as well. (Stamm also appears as the documentary's cameraman.)
My only qualm is with the ending, and I can honestly say in the case of A Necessary Death that the "alternate ending" included on this screener copy of the DVD is more realistic and more affecting than the one the filmmakers opted to go with. While being as completely spoiler free as I can, I will say this: when the garage door comes down at the climax of the film, your heart will be in your stomach, as mine was. But some of this shock occurs due to its inevitability, which is somewhat telegraphed at the beginning of the sequence. While the "alternate" ending may be less shocking, it is far more realistic, and far more haunting.
A Necessary Death, though made in 2008, has only very recently come to DVD, and can also be purchased through iTunes.