Over the following weeks, I will be reviewing the three films directed by Jeremy Saulnier, a particularly exciting young filmmaker who has been garnering a lot of traction these past few years. Perhaps not so well known to mass audiences, but definitely in the view of more niche horror/indie film corners of the spectrum, Jeremy Saulnier is a young writer-director best known for his critically acclaimed 2013 revenge-thriller Blue Ruin.
After seeing his latest release, Green Room, I went back and watched his previous films, and will be reviewing them in chronological order of release.
And so, Murder Party:
Murder Party is an 80-minute comedy-horror film from 2007 by a first-time director, created with virtually no budget, and featuring a cast of amateur actors. Admittedly, it doesn’t seem to have much going for it knowing that, but Saulnier and Co. actually work to create a humorous, lean, and unique horror film that is unlike any I’ve seen before.
It’s Halloween night in Murder Party, and we watch our protagonist, an especially lonely man named Chris, return to his New York apartment with candy and horror tapes in hand, pleading with his cat Sir Lancelot to move from his chair. Being the difficult but incredibly cute cat he is, Sir Lancelot obviously refuses to move, leaving Chris to instead turn to the party invitation he found during his walk home, aptly named “Murder Party.” Chris throws together a Halloween costume and makes his way over to the party.
Upon arrival at the not-at-all-sketchy warehouse where the party is located, Chris is welcomed to a group of five pretentious art students. One of them is snorting coke, another in the corner playing video games, while a third sets up a camera in the middle of the room where a tarp and various instruments for maiming lie.
It turns out that the “Murder Party” is actually just that. The group isn’t there to party (although the copious amounts of cocaine suggest there will be a bit of partying); no, this group is there to make “art” by way of murder, and now Chris is their model.
You would probably expect the film to turn into a cat and mouse game within the warehouse, where Chris simply hides from the art students, doing his best to either get away or kill them before they do the same to him. And while there is a scene where this occurs early on, and it makes for some really humorous moments, the majority of the film plays less like a slasher à la Friday the 13th. Instead, the film is more akin to, oddly enough, an understated horror take on Reservoir Dogs.
Chris ends up tied to a chair for much of the remaining running time, and the film instead turns focus on the group of art students as they fumble about, pondering the most artistic way to murder Chris and impress Alexander, a wealthy art aficionado who promises a large grant if they can create some really great art.
With the name Murder Party, it’s ironic that the film finds its strength in funny dialogues rather than gory decapitations, and the art students make for a truly hilarious group of sadistic characters. In a rather special scene of the film, Alexander injects everyone with a “truth serum” in order to play a game where everyone gives up their most personal and embarrassing stories, and we’re provided just enough character development in the personal accounts from each character, in turn making the characters much more likable and relatable.
The finale of the film does finally live up to the name of “Murder Party.” It’s nice to see a pay-off that plays to the horror sensibilities of the film, but at the same time, it feels a little cheap to see a majority of the characters we’ve grown to like get killed off so quickly. But again, even with the low budget, there is some impressive effects work in the climax that makes it all worth it.
Going in, the only thing I knew about Murder Party was that it was written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier. I’m glad I was so unaware of what it was going to be, as it totally defied all my expectations and turned out to be a nice surprise. I expected a total schlock slasher film, and while it definitely is just that in its final minutes, I was impressed by how the better part of the film averted from being just another slasher flick destined to fade away as time passes.
At the end of the day, Murder Party is best described as a fun little horror-comedy film that takes an easy but humorous jab at the art community. It’s an understandably choppy debut feature from a first-time director who would quickly go on to do some absolutely wonderful work.
Be sure to return in the next couple weeks as I review Saulnier’s more recent releases. Next up: 2013’s Blue Ruin.