Saturday, June 03, 2017
MURDER PARTY (Jeremy Saulnier, 2007)
Christopher (Chris Sharp) is preparing to spend Halloween night watching horror movies, but his plans change when he finds an invitation on the sidewalk to a so-called murder party. He makes a Sir Lancelot costume out of a cardboard box in his closet and turns the smashed jack-o’-lantern on his doorstep into pumpkin bread to bring to the hosts. Christopher makes his way to the isolated Brooklyn warehouse where the party is being held in MURDER PARTY not expecting the dangerous situation he’s entered.
The collective of artists who sent out the invitations can hardly believe someone showed up. They anticipated spending the evening getting high and doing some work, but now that a victim has arrived, they intend to kill him and document it as provocative art. They’re mounting this project in the hope of getting grant money that Alexander (Alex Barnett) claims access to. While they wait until the witching hour to begin, tensions among the artists emerge, giving Christopher his best chance to get out alive.
MURDER PARTY plants the seeds for what writer-director Jeremy Saulnier refines in BLUE RUIN and GREEN ROOM. The protagonist becomes entangled in circumstances that greatly exceed what he is ready for, and the consequences are quite bloody. Although all three of Saulnier’s features mix horror and comedy, MURDER PARTY is more directly or broadly comedic, particularly as the artists bumble their way through their clearly unorganized plan and squabble as interpersonal relationships fray. Much of the humor is marked by a self-knowing quality puncturing the self-seriousness of artists, especially those seeking initial validation. The shots fired at these characters are on target but tend to be the most obvious jokes.
MURDER PARTY was made with a low budget and actors performing multiple tasks on the technical crew. Those factors imbue it with the sense of a bunch of friends making something for fun, which translates in the looseness of the effort. The special effects have inexpensive, handmade charm. The overactive Steadicam usage suggests acquiring access to a nice piece of equipment and using it as much as possible without taking its creative purpose into account. The smooth, swinging motions are more distracting than anything.
The varying calibers of the performances restrict MURDER PARTY from being as suspenseful as it could have been. Saulnier is aiming for something goofier, as these would-be killers are not geniuses in art or crime. Still, he doesn’t exploit the apprehension inherent in the scenario. Rather, it limps along until a flip gets switched to increase the body count. MURDER PARTY plays like a really good film to share among the social circle that made it but one that could stand more polish to reach those beyond that group. It contains indications of promise that Saulnier developed in the films that followed, making it of interest more as an early work than as a standalone achievement.