Before he made the laid back revenge tale Blue Ruin and the nerve-wracking siege Green Room, Jeremy Saulnier made a movie that didn’t have a color in the title. He wrote, cast, directed, and shot a little ditty called Murder Party.
After the jump, did no one think of calling it Red Ruin Room?
Most of Murder Party is more comedy of manners than horror movie. For whatever reason, Saulnier really has it out for New York art snobs gentrifying Brooklyn. Here a bunch of them literally throw an invitation to the wind to see if someone will show up. “Come to a murder party,” it reads to no one in particular. If it works, they intend to murder the person — on Halloween night, of course — and present it a multimedia art project. Because Art.
Walker Percy’s novel, The Last Gentlemen, opens with a description of the protagonist, a young man in New York, as someone living his life waiting for a sign.
If a total stranger had stopped him this morning on Columbus Circle and thrust into his palm a note which read:
Meet me on the NE corner of Lindell Blvd and Kings Highway in St. Louis 9AM next Thursday — have news of utmost importance he’d have struck out for St. Louis (the question is, how many people nowadays would not?).
In Murder Party, a similarly adrift character finds the invitation blowing in the wind. On Halloween, his cat won’t get out of his seat to let him sit down and enjoy horror movies while eating handfuls of candy corn out of a bowl. Who eats handfuls of candy corn out of a bowl? This guy. He also watches VHS tapes even though it’s 2007. So with nowhere to sit, he decides to accept the invitation. He makes an impromptu costume out of cardboard and duct tape. He prints out directions. He follows the directions to a warehouse in Brooklyn. The art snobs jump him and truss him up to get him ready for murdering. Now the rest of the movie can be about them. He doesn’t seem to mind. He’s that kind of guy.
His name is Chris. He’s played by Chris Sharp. Most of the characters have the same first name as the actors playing them. This is that kind of movie. Saulnier made it with a bunch of friends, some of whom he grew up with, making VHS and Super 8 movies.You’ll see actors, producers, and music composers with the same last name. One of the actresses is named Skei Saulnier. She plays a character named Sky.
A couple of the actors are really good, particularly a Dane Cook look-a-like named Alex Barnett (playing a character named Alexander). Macon Blair plays a character named Macon. He’s the worst kind of over-the-top. Unconvincingly over-the-top. You’d never guess how good he’s going to be when he settles down. He will give Blue Ruin its heart and Green Room its conscience.
So given that this is a freshman effort for pretty much everyone involved, what makes Murder Party work is what it’s trying to do, whether it can do it or not. For instance, a climactic chase scene on Halloween night. It plays out across rooftops, through parties, and then into the perfect place for the movie to end. But it’s chopped up as if they couldn’t get all the actors on the days for all the shots they needed. So it exists largely in editing. The editing occasionally steps on some of the gags. I’m pretty sure the murder of a cake and a dying character’s observations about someone shoes are really funny, but it’s hard to tell from the way they’re edited. These are great bits, but they don’t read clearly. Saulnier will get better at this. For instance, the way he sets up, shoots, and edits a pivotal scene in Green Room about Anton Yelchin reaching through a door.
Although Murder Party has a couple of decent gore effects (kudos for doing a chainsaw to the face in a brightly lit room!), the finale is that thing where they just throw fake blood on a wall. You’re supposed to imagine what’s happening to cause the blood to spray that far. Probably a case of not having money for the money shot. Just use your imagination.
When you approach it that way, most of Murder Party works just fine. The set up. The sense of humor. “I didn’t sign up for second-degree assault party,” deadpans one of the characters as they debate whether to actually do the murder. There’s a great bit about everyone deciding what to order for dinner. The way everything unravels at once because of a dog, a carelessly lit cigarette, and the effects of sodium pentothal. But as with Macon Blair’s performance, you’d never guess what Saulnier will go on to do. The weakest thing about Murder Party is that it’s from the guy who made Blue Ruin and Green Room.
You can watch Murder Party on Amazon.com here.
(This review was an assignment from one of my Patreon supporters. If you’re interested in assigning me a specific review, check out my Patreon campaign here.)