Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Boston Fantastic Film Festival: ­Murder Party

Murder Party is another movie that played Fantasia after I'd returned to Cambridge, although I think it may actually have run the last Friday or Saturday I was in Montreal, too. At any rate, it wasn't one I was terribly broken up about missing at the time. Here, it sort of got swallowed by Game 2 of the ALCS, whose eleventh inning was a horror show of its own.

I hope that this isn't really typical of Fantasia's second half; I see from their website that they'll be running 3 July - 20 July in 2008. I don't much want to miss the Fourth in Boston, but the tail end of Fantasia often seems to include a lot of less-exciting things. But I guess I can worry about that next summer.

Murder Party

* * ¾ (out of four)
Seen 13 October 2007 at the Brattle Theatre (Boston Fantastic Film Festival)

In comedy terms, what is an easier target than young artists who think they're more revolutionary and clever than they really are? Nothing's immediately leaping to mind, and, the jokes made about them tend to be funnier than the ones made about other easy targets. I'm not sure that's exactly what this movie needs, but it's amusing nonetheless.

We don't meet the art-school types right away; first up is Christopher Hawley (Chris Sharp) renting some crappy horror movies for Halloween. On the way home, he happens upon an invitation to a "murder party". He whips up a crappy cardboard costume and takes the train out to the edge of town. What he soon finds is that he has not been invited to a murder mystery, but an abandoned warehouse where five art students are competing for the approval for Alexander (Sydney Barnett), who has a $300,000 grant for the one with the best idea for making their guest's murder a work of art. Even before Alexander shows up with his drug dealer Zycho (Bill Tangradi), things begin to go wrong; a little truth serum and competition later, and things start to get really strange.

One thing that filmmaker Jeremy Saulnier doesn't do is make Christopher into a simple straight man. Sharp plays Christopher as oddly calm amid the chaos, and more a sad, lonely loser than a regular guy. He doesn't come across as clever enough to play his captors against each other, but he's alert enough to make a break for it when they start getting at each other's throats on their own. And as weird and amoral as his captors are, they're just as freaked out by Alexander and Zycho as Christopher is by them. It doesn't quite make them sympathetic, but it does set up the possibility of shifting alliances later on. It's a neat little set-up.

The execution could be a bit better. It doesn't particularly drag or come off as poorly done, but I kept expecting it to be a bit more... something. Maybe more funny, maybe more tense, maybe gorier. The movie just seems to be biding its time in the middle, separating the initial surprises from the action and splatter of the end. A few of the characters blur together, and the folks brought in toward the end to increase the body count make that much of an impression. There's plenty of black comedy, but it doesn't really go for the throat like it could.

Things to perk up when people start dying en masse. Christopher finally gets out of the chair he's chained to and does something, and the characters get to run around a little. The splatter effects are done pretty well, and the movie finally gets to be cruelly funny in a way it hadn't been since Christopher first arrived at the warehouse (the extension cord is the comedy gift that keeps on giving). This is probably what Saulnier and his Lab of Madness partners were looking to do, and they do seem to be having a good time as they finally get to cut loose.

A lot of movies in this genre are like that - fifteen minutes of bloody mayhem and an hour or so of story/padding to feature length. Murder Party is actually better at it than most - maybe not so well done as to win over people who aren't already fans of silly low-budget horror, but I can easily see it getting cheers from those who are.

Also at HBS.

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