'A Necessary Death' Review: Documentary Assisted Suicide

'A Necessary Death' Review: Documentary Assisted Suicide

Director Daniel Stamm proved he could marshal the power of the faux documentary format for his chilling 2010 feature “The Last Exorcism.”

“Exorcism” wasn’t Stamm’s first foray in the genre.

A Necessary Death,” hitting DVD this week, was shot prior to “Exorcism” and helped him secure his deal for the possession thriller. “Death” follows a student filmmaker and his two production pals as they try to capture a person’s suicidal journey.

The film involves a documentary troupe shooting another documentary troupe, adding an extra layer to the artifice on display. Yet as Stamm showed with “Exorcism,” the storytelling format can yield intriguing results when handled effectively. And Stamm, who also wrote the film, does just that with the thought-provoking “Death.”

Student filmmaker Gilbert (G.J. Echternkamp) has an idea for a thesis project he thinks will set him apart from his peers.

“If you don’t cross a line, no one’s gonna pay attention,” Gilbert laments.

He wants to film a person about to take his or her own life. The subject matter is ripe, no doubt, but the moral issues in play give him pause. So when he finds Matt (Matt Tilley), a soft-spoken gent with an inoperable brain tumor, Gilbert thinks he’s stumbled upon a practical solution.

Matt is going to die anyway, so capturing his final moments on film is far less troubling than shooting a depressed person or someone grappling with psychological issues.

Or so Gilbert thinks.

“A Necessary Death” isn’t a direct argument for physician-assisted suicide, although its main players reluctantly embrace the concept to tell their story. But while Gilbert’s crew members start to question their actions, Gilbert forges ahead, the prototypical “artiste” who cares more about his work than the people around him.

“Death” dabbles in some serious issues beyond suicide, doing so in a manner that neither demeans nor diminishes them. Just where is the line between art and common decency? How culpable are Gilbert and his team to Matt’s mental state? And can the faux documentary format really handle subject matter as knotty as this?

The answer to the latter question is a qualified “yes.”

“Death” does hit a few rough spots, particularly with a clunky plot device even the principals acknowledge is suspect. And a turning point for one character erupts suddenly, forcing the story to devolve into a “reality show”-style conflict.

“The Last Exorcism” ended on an underwhelming note, but “Death” more than makes amends. Even better, while too many found footage/documentary films give character development short shrift, “Death” makes everyone involved feel real, raw and, in the case of poor Matt, close to unforgettable.

Follow Christian Toto on Twitter @TotoMovies