So you’re walking home from work on Halloween when you come across an invite to a “Murder Party” that advises you, in creepy font, to “Come Alone.” What do you do?
If you’re Chris Hawley (Chris Sharp), a likeable loner whose best friend is a cat named Sir Lancelot, you go of course. Unbeknownst to Chris, the name of the party is to be taken literally, and his decision to attend could very well result in his demise.
Such is the concept of Murder Party, a dark and wickedly clever horror-comedy from writer-director Jeremy Saulnier.
Poor, hapless Chris, who goes to the trouble of baking a pumpkin loaf – from the remains of the jack ‘o’ lantern someone smashed outside his door – and constructing a comically lame knight costume out of cardboard and duct tape for the occasion soon realizes that this soiree is not your average costume party.
The hosts are a group of pretentious artists each trying to come up with the most creative way of offing their victim to win grant money from the sleazy Alexander (Alex Barnett), who shows up with his drug dealer and only seems interested in getting high and taunting them. Fortunately for Chris, who spends a good deal of the film tied to a chair, his would-be killers are self-important asses, and when the blood starts to spill it’s theirs, not his.
Clocking in at a scant 75 minutes, Saulnier’s feature film debut moves along fairly well, although the middle act is a tad slow. It’s buoyed by snappy dialogue and decent performances from the leads, notably Barnett. There are some great sight gags, too – at one point when Chris manages to escape from his chair, he finds himself at another, less-violent, Halloween party and screams, “I need a cell phone! Call 911!” A moment later he runs into a stairwell where a partygoer dressed as a cell phone is casually smoking a cigarette. Chris pauses, contemplates the situation, then flees. Silly, funny stuff, and an example of Saulnier’s knack for comedic timing.
Most of the mayhem and action occurs in the final act, when one of the characters decides that everyone must die and goes on a rampage. It’s gory, gross, funny, and at-times suspenseful. And because most of the characters are so vile, you’re not exactly cheering for their survival.
Murder Party recently screened at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival, and was handed the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at the Slamdance Film Festival and the Best Feature Film award at the Vail Film Festival. It’s not hard to understand its popularity, and it provides more proof that writing can make or break a film.
Cast: Chris Sharp, Alex Barnett, Stacy Rock
Directed by: Jeremy Saulnier