Jeremy Saulnier, the mind behind recent indie thriller successes Blue Ruin and Green Room, began his feature directorial career in 2007 with the low-budget horror comedy Murder Party. In it, a man (Chris Sharp) finds an invitation to a Halloween “murder party,” makes himself a cardboard knight costume, and ventures to the secluded warehouse where the party is taking place.
Instead of a costume party, though, the loner Christopher finds himself a patron to his own murder. An avant garde art collective vying for a $300,000 “grant” from the eccentric pedant Alexander (Alex Barnett) want to make Christopher’s death their next art installation.
This collective is comprised of a series of odd and clashing personalities: the coked up firebrand (Stacy Rock) and the sad drinker (Macon Blair) who dotes on her, the exceedingly average photographer (Paul Goldblatt) who attempts to rival Alexander’s put-on upper crust persona, the passive stoic (William Lacey) who everyone seems to disrespect. The rag tag group is surprisingly interesting given these contrasts, especially as plans begin to shift and devolve.
Murder Party is incredibly simplistic, almost everything taking place on a single bare set, but the look of it is dynamic. Wonderful steadicam shots move freeform over the characters as if we are merely another attendee, a complicit participant in the action.
Indeed, we are aligned with the murderers throughout the movie. Chris, our supposed protagonist, is bound and gagged for much of the plot, and when he is not he is mumbling in anxious fear. The only characterization we get for him is his meek introduction, where he can’t even stand up to his own cat.
It is the murderers who get all of the dialogue, all of the character development, and the majority of the screentime. They are humanized by their irrational insecurities, and they are made monstrous through their deluded perception of art. They are what make the set pieces memorable when the night becomes a bloodbath.
And a bloodbath it truly is. Gore effects are dialed up to 11, making for an indulgent splatter flick reminiscent of slasher and exploitation affair of old. With this lack of restraint, the film is macabre fun. Other visual effects are stellar for a low-budget film. Two particular pieces of prosthetic and makeup work are astounding (if you were to do a Google image search of the film, both pieces would appear).
The film achieves its comedy through a contrast of blatant understatement, with people reacting glibly to serious acts of violence, and bursts of furious emotion, including two nearly identical montages of characters dancing, doing drugs, and having sex. While the former is much more interesting and humorous than the latter, both elements have their charm and work together to make an effective horror comedy.
Murder Party is more indulgent than it is intelligent, sacrificing any semblance of nuance for humorous and gory deaths. While it is hard to expect anything more from a film entitled Murder Party, viewing Saulnier’s debut feature in retrospect almost begs for a bit more stylistic oomph. This said, it is a enthusiastic romp of a film that any splatter fan will find grotesquely delightful.
Murder Party: B+
Murder Party is currently available to watch on Amazon Video here.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)