A Necessary Death Film Review – Winner of the 2008 AFI FEST Audience Award


"A Necessary Death" wins the Audience Award for the 2008 AFI Fest.

Obsessive, driven Graduate film student Gilbert ( G.J. Echternkamp) wants to do something no one else has ever done for his film thesis project. His has come up with a documentary concept: to find a suicidal person and document their motivations, process and final days before committing the act. His goal is to find someone already planning their demise; someone who will actually go through with it. Despite have his ads flagged and removed from several websites, he manages to get fourteen actual hits.

Gilbert John in "A Necessary Death"

                                                    During the interview process, Gilbert comes across desperate housewives and teenager with apparent pacts. As subjects in filmmaking term: boring. However, the only real choice for Gilbert is twenty-something Matt ( Matthew Tilley). Matt has a brain tumor, just like the one his dad died from. He has decoded to take is life before the worse of it occurs. 

He pitches his usual crew, DP Michael ( Michael Traynor) and Sound mixer and ex-girlfriend Val ( Valerie Hurt); both students take much convincing. Upon hearing Matt’s story Michael and reluctantly Val, come on board. Documentarian Daniel ( Stamm) will be documenting the process of Gilbert’s documentary. As the voice behind the camera for most of the film, we now have a movie within a movie.

Gilbert also submits his proposal for funds from his school, and the educational institution will have nothing to do with it. So he (or rather his mother) must raise the money to make this groundbreaking film happen. And the 62-day countdown begins.

The obstacles continue to befall the tiny production, emotional, financial and ethical, without much windfall of good fortune. Inevitably, the more time the filmmakers spend with Matt, the more they find themselves drawn into Matt’s life and come to like him as a person. So as the fateful day draws near, they begin to see him less and less as the subject of a documentary and more and more as a person whose suicide they will ultimately be witnessing. Val has the worst time of the three; solidifying the school of thought that there is no such thing as reality television because the presence of the spectator invariably changes the events as they would naturally unfold.

(l to r) Matt Tilley & Director Daniel Stamm in "A Necessary Death".

Writer-Director Daniel Stamm has creafted a great film. It is an original idea approached with intelligence and a deft dramatic hand. It makes great use of the video format infusing the piece with a raw, immediacy that reality television is supposed to have. There are very few hints to suggest (or rather remind the audience) that this a narrative piece, and that is why it works so well as a faux documentary. From concept to execution, truly well done.

The performances are first rate. The shooting script consisted of a skeleton plot points that needed to be achieved in every scene. After that, director just let the actors go; so a large amount of the performances are a product of repetition and improvisation. There’s no acting here, just good, solid, honest organic performances that make it easy for the audience to mistake this for real life. These are all normal, uncomplicated kids, whose intersecting lives quickly become a messy, dangerously interconnected web. The film takes several and turns and there is no guessing how the film will end.


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