Stream to Scream: “MURDER PARTY”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
If one were to look at Jeremy Saulnier’s contemplative revenge opus BLUE RUIN or his upcoming punks-vs-skins siege flick GREEN ROOM, you might be hard pressed to believe that his freshman outing as a filmmaking was something much more rooted in horror comedy territory. But this is most definitely the case when it comes to 2007’s MURDER PARTY, a bloody and bizarre horror story with a script that is as sharp as the murderous tools within it. And while the humor is quite often dry and pitch black, Saulnier’s directorial debut is nonetheless a hilarious skewering of pretentious modern art culture taken to extremes, and the character work on display here laid the groundwork for BLUE RUIN and beyond.
For the unfamiliar, MURDER PARTY is about a lonesome suburbanite who spontaneously goes to a Halloween Party which is described as a “Murder Party” on his seemingly random invitation. However, upon arrival, the suburbanite is subdued and tied to a chair, where he learns he is to be murdered as a part of an interactive art piece by a collective of desperate, amoral artists who terribly want a grant from a pompous, enigmatic socialite named Alexander. However, not everyone in the collective is who they appear to be, and once the bodies start piling up, our unlikely hero must find a way to get out of his bindings and make it home alive.
With a script so good that you’ll be wishing you wrote it yourself, MURDER PARTY gives Saulnier a chance to craft a satire of holier-than-thou modern art (specifically, the Brooklyn art scene) while also telling an engaging and hilarious suspense story. And considering that the film largely exists within one space, outside of the film’s first and last 10 minute stretches, Saulnier tells the story with a consistently moving and wandering camera, capturing our villains in unflattering intimacy. And even more impressive is just how effortlessly the humor is interspersed among the the real-life stakes of the movie: while the movie mines much hilarity out of the group dynamic and the situations they put themselves in, the violence is executed in a swift and horrific manner, much akin to the hard-hitting violence of BLUE RUIN.
Technically speaking, the film is a labor of love for Saulnier, who not only serves as writer-director but also as director of photography, from which the visual work is respectable in its own right given that Saulnier paints his urban landscapes in a very unique, foreboding way. However, much credit is also due to Brooke and Will Blair’s excellent score, which marries the synth aesthetics of John Carpenter and the segmented rhythms of Tangerine Dream. And the low-budget film definitely feels like a much more ambitious and grander effort thanks to the top-notch editing by Marc Beroza and Paul Goldblatt’s visceral FX work.
Yet MURDER PARTY wouldn’t nearly be as effective if it wasn’t for the pitch-perfect performances on display, with every actor bringing such a varied and impressive personality to their character. Chris Sharp is hilarious as our unwitting protagonist, and the fact that he has barely any dialogue in the film makes his physical comedy and emotional investment in the character all the more impressive. Meanwhile, Stacy Rock, Paul Goldblatt, William Lacey, Alex Barnett, Bill Tangradi and Skei Saulnier are all hilarious and, at times, psychotic as their respective members of the art collective. Yet perhaps the scene stealer would be future BLUE RUIN star Macon Blair, whose sad sack artist provides some of the funniest and most tragic moments of the entire film, but commits to every twist on his character with fiery gusto.
Overall, MURDER PARTY is a movie that is long overdue for a rediscovery, and acts as one of the stronger horror comedy offerings to never descend into shtick. It’s an even more fascinating experience knowing Saulnier’s eventual career trajectory, but not very surprising considering the character work and technical finesse on display. And if anything, MURDER PARTY is just an incredibly satisfying and well-written movie on its own right, and likely to satiate ardent horror fans and comedy nerds alike.
MURDER PARTY is now streaming on Shudder.