I'd seen the trailer to Murder Party quite a while ago and thought I knew pretty well what I was in for. In many ways I was correct, though I suppose it suffers from that general issues independent films often possess: the trailer shows most of the interesting parts and leaves out the long stretches where not much happens, giving the false impression that there's a lot more to the film than there actually is. Still, I figured another film from Jeremy Saulnier would be interesting.
I'd seen Blue Ruin years ago after it became much-hyped and subsequently overrated. Green Room had much the same problem, though it was probably a better movie, overall. Still, neither of them were as interesting, compelling, or shocking as any of the many people I heard from had stated. Maybe it's the fact that, as I said previously, I've never actually been afraid of anything; I've had guns pointed at me in armed robberies, I've had more near-misses on car accidents than the average bear, I've seen seen any number of strange and horrifying realities that didn't particularly phase me. Perhaps I'm the wrong person to judge these things. If I had the ability to actually understand the things that people find unsettling, I'd be writing horror. That said, I'm a great appreciator of violence; not gore, per se - violent acts on film, be they horror or action or revenge thrillers. So, I do appreciate certain aspects of Saulnier's filmmaking, but I haven't found any of his films shocking or overwhelmingly impressive. Just some decent character studies with acts of violence wrapped up in them. Admirable 7 and 8 out of 10 films.
I hoped from the trailers I'd seen that the much more independent, low-fi, comedic nature of Murder Party would lend itself to a fun and anarchic atmosphere. The absurdly gory horror-comedy has become a staple of its own little corner of the genre. This may have been a little too smart or solipsistic for its own good.
A bland middle-aged meter maid settles in for a Halloween alone at home, picking up some rentals from the local video store to watch with his cat, but comes across an invitation on the ground to a "murder party". After a brief dalliance with staying in and watching films, his housecat refuses to get out of his chair, so he decides to accept this errant invitation as his own. I'm not sure why this walking tabula rasa would do such a thing, as it doesn't make much sense. But he quickly constructs a knight's armor out of a cardboard box, prints off directions on his computer, and wanders off through the urban landscape on foot and via subway to some dingy industrial outskirt. He's unnerved, but still goes through with it for some unknown reason. Upon arriving at the mess-filled warehouse listed on the invitation, he's promptly tied to a chair and told he's going to be killed. The costumed characters that are about to do him in are all artists and his murder is going to be their art, all in some strange attempt to appease another artist named Alexander, who may or may not have access to grant money. What you'd initially assume would be a series of hijinks that lead to the captured nebbish turning the tables on his captors and doing them all in turns out to be, largely, a sort of social commentary followed by a series of accidents and incidents, killing most of them while he bears mute witness to the proceedings.
It seems like it might be going somewhere amusing, but mostly meanders around, really focusing on the artists and the very obvious and time-tested notions than they're mostly dumb, full of shit, and spouting buzzwords with no real meaning. Alexander and his Eastern European drug dealer eventually show up and initiate picking away at the artists' egos until chaos ensues. There's a long stretch where they're all injected with sodium pentothal to play a truth-telling game and reveal their secrets to Alexander, and if that scene doesn't go on for at least 15 to 20 minutes of the already-short running time... I'm honestly not sure I'd believe you.
There's decent performances from several actors, many of whom would show up again in later Saulnier films (including Macon Blair, who starred in Blue Ruin). Mostly, though, it's a bit slow and takes the same old potshots at the hipster dickbag art community while never quite paying off the anarchic splatter-comedy promise of the premise, despite the last portion of the film, which does hew much closer to the idea you receive from the trailer.
The film may have just ended up feeling very average, though there's nothing average about seeing something set around 2006, where some people still rent VHS tapes, have flip phones (if they have a cell phone at all), and you have to print off directions online to find your way anywhere. That's a strange time capsule of its own and may in some ways feel more unsettling than the rest of it. True fear is relying on Mapquest and a Blackberry Curve to get you through the darkness of the mid-00's. Though I refuse to believe anyone was still renting video tapes in 2006. That part may be the least realistic bit about the film.