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By Mariko McDonald | July 21, 2009

The horror-comedy hybrid is already a well established subgenre, and the zom-rom-com is quickly becoming it’s own sub-sub-genre, so it shouldn’t come as too big a surprise that another ultra-trendy horror subgenre is getting the romantic comedy treatment. What is surprising is that the sub-genre in question is “torture porn” and that the combination works so well. Or, at least it does in the case of Andreas Schaap’s feature debut “Must Love Death.”

Norman Summers (Sami Loris) is having a rather bad go of things these days. His girlfriend just left him, he can’t write music anymore and he can’t even work up the guts to kill himself. And then he gets hit by a car. For most people this would just be more awfulness, but in Norman’s twisted world this actually turns out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to him, because the car in question is being driven by the lovely Jenny (Robin Wright look alike Manon Kahle).

Suddenly things are looking up: he’s writing again, his song’s gonna be on the radio, and Jenny even gives him a tour of the set of his favorite sci-fi show. But alas, as is Norman’s fate, even that seems too good to be true and he finally sinks low enough to accept an invitation to a cabin in the woods to be part of a suicide pact. Again for poor Norman, things are not as they seem, and he soon finds himself pushed to his limits in a desperate fight for survival.

However, the details of the plot are ultimately unimportant as the true genius of the film is how deftly it is able to switch gears. At one moment a near saccharine sweet love story and the next a pitch black gore comedy, “Must Love Death” is delirious, surprising, and insanely entertaining. How it manages to work so well on both levels is a testament both to the actors, most of whom were not native English speakers, and the energetic direction on display. Schaap’s ability to play the touching and horrific moments off of each other is nothing short of inspired, and the fact that this was basically a student film project just makes it that much more impressive.

What could easily have been a pretentious exercise in cleverness is instead a deeply funny look at an America gone mad which will leave audiences alternately shrieking in horror and delight. Destined to be a festival favorite, “Must Love Death” is a film that needs to be seen to be believed. Finally, a romantic comedy for the sick and twisted crowd.

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