(Warning: The following review contains spoilers that may ruin the moviegoing experience for you. Read at your own risk.)
Here's the official synopsis for A Necessary Death: "Documentary Filmmaker looking for suicidal individual to follow from first preparation to final act." Cut from 142 video tapes, this project sheds light on the tragedy following the infamous internet ad." It's not until the end credits begin to roll before we're finally presented with proof that this is not a real documentary; it's a fictional narrative told through the documentary format (or as some would say, a film by and for the YouTube generation). Either way, whether you go in knowing this or not knowing this, the film still packs a solid punch with its wild ideas, strong storyline and terrific performances.
Written and directed by Daniel Stemm, A Necessary Death follows Gilbert Toma, a student working on a film for his final thesis. His intentions are to find a person who is not only suicidal, but has also set a date to go through with ending their life. Gilbert wants to follow them around, learn about their life, their struggles, what have you, right up until the point where they actually commit suicide. Joining Gilbert are his two friends/production buddies, Valerie and Mike, as well as their camera operator, Daniel.
From what I can tell, everyone used their real names in order to lend a bit more authenticity to the project, and thankfully the performances are all on par with what you'd expect to see from real people shooting this kind of documentary. After placing an ad on Craigslist, Gilbert begins to "audition" people to see who would be the right subject for his piece. All things are taken into consideration, including how photogenic the person is, as well as how high the chances are of them actually going through with it. As Gilbert even says at one point, what good is a documentary about a suicidal person if there's a happy ending?
The crew eventually decide to go with Matt, a British guy who's suffering from a deadly Butterfly tumor in his brain. Matt, who seems to be a genuinely nice guy, wants to end his life before the pain from his illness sets in. Thus begins a sad and twisted journey, one that would eventually tear apart the production crew; turn friends against friends, lovers against lovers, workers against their boss. As our main character, Gilbert isn't very likable to start out with. As a filmmaker, he's just doing his job -- struggling to find the right balance between treating Matt as his subject and as his friend. As a person, however, Gilbert is hard to relate to. He's cold, calculated -- he knows exactly what he wants (to actually film someone committing suicide), and he will do whatever it takes to get there.
During the course of the film, we learn Gilbert used to be dating Valerie, and that feelings between the two are still there. Valerie, unlike Gilbert, grows extremely close to Matt on a personal level and slowly begins to lose faith in the project (something that's set up early on and paid off quite well throughout). There are twists, turns and an ending you wouldn't expect -- all of which make A Necessary Death one of those rare films; the kind you could enjoy on a number of different levels depending on what you know going in and how you feel about this topic personally.
The performances and real-life look of the film are both spot on, but real kudos have to go to the writing. As much as it doesn't seem like you're watching an intricate plot unfold, there's actually so much going on -- all of it layered; structured brilliantly. Like us, all of these characters have flaws; some of which are harder to move past than others. Where do you draw the line as a filmmaker? If you had the opportunity to shoot something that tragic, something that preventable -- something that has never been filmed before -- would you do it? And if so, how do you live with yourself afterwards? These are just a few of the questions that will scurry around your brain throughout the film, and it's what makes A Necessary Death a cut above the rest.