Murder Party

3 out of 5

Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier

That Murder Party is a rather slight film distracts from something that puts all other variants on this theme to shame: how well put together it is on such a low budget.  Director / writer Jeremy Saulnier doesn’t waste time in getting traffic cop Christopher (Chris Sharp) into trouble – following a vague invite to a ‘Murder Party’ on Halloween and finding out, post being tied up, that it’s exactly what was advertised – but he pauses here and there for some plot tics and characterizations that make the film’s 80 minutes very, very satisfying.  It boils down to a murder-gone-wrong black comedy, with several Brooklyn-based art students planning to capture a killing (in their individual ways – photo, painting, etc.) to woo the brash Alexander (Sandy Barnett) out of some grant money – a setup which only works if you accept the surface fascinations of Williamsburgers that’s embellished and mocked here – only to have drugs and bickering make things go quite astray.

Saulnier saves up his gore budget for some key moments, which work really well, but otherwise keeps his camera circling around the cast – who are just shy of being too obnoxious so that we can stay with them for the runtime and enjoy ourselves – while we wait for midnight to see the deed go down.  An inevitable final clash has the same juxtaposition as the setup: it’s really silly and not quite believable, but it’s paired against the ridiculousness of the art world and its vanities (and don’t worry: Saulnier isn’t trying to make any heavy points here, it’s just part of the film’s tone), and so it continues to work.

And while none of this is too surprising, the production never flinches: you don’t get those moments where you roll your eyes at something attempted that couldn’t be afforded, and Saulnier absolutely makes the most of a main warehouse set, cluttered with brickabrack and boxes and tools and junk, and constantly providing an interesting backdrop for the madness.  It’s this quality that provides evidence of Saulnier (and his often producer / star Macon Blair) as having been a guy to watch, allowing smarter people than m’self to point the way to Blue Ruin and Green Room and beyond.