By JAMES TUCKER
Starring: Chris Sharp, Stacy Rock, William Lacey
Directed by Jeremy Saulnier
Written by Jeremy Saulnier
Produced by The Lab of Madness
It’s Netflix week here in the Sematary, and to kick things off we have Jeremy Saulnier’s excellent MURDER PARTY. It was either this or Girl on the Third Floor, and for some reason I’ve had a lot of people tell me to stay away from that one. So, I guess you’re welcome? Going in, I was expecting a Halloween-themed close quarters Battle Royale style film, a bit of mindless gore that would distract from increasingly apocalyptic circumstances. Instead, I got an intelligent meta-horror comedy with an axe to grind; and while I was initially a bit put off by the film’s not-so-subtle sermonizing of the ridiculousness of “high art” (I just came to see the man in the cardboard costume fight the baseball guy), I eventually found myself falling in line with it’s message and loving every minute of it.
MURDER PARTY follows Christopher S. Hawley (Chris Sharp) as he stumbles upon an invitation to an exclusive… well… murder party. Yes, that’s what it’s called. The invitation instructs him to come alone, which Christopher has no intention of doing… at first. You see, he just can’t take another night home alone, watching movies by himself. Christopher’s life is dreadfully dull, and after he pours himself a bowl of Candy Corn and can’t get his cat (named Lancelot. LANCELOT) out of his easy chair, he decides death is preferable to boredom and goes to the party anyways. The party is being hosted by a group of amateur artistes (And yes, I spelled it that way for a reason. Spoiler: they’re all pretentious fuckwads.) who are looking to make art out of some poor unfortunate’s death. They’re looking to be transgressive, to be avant-garde: and they may even have a grant riding on the work they produce that night. The only problem is, they’re incompetent. Woefully incompetent.
“MURDER PARTY is more like What We Do in the Shadows than Battle Royale, but that’s not a bad thing.”
If I was going to summarize this film for a sound bite, I would call this Rob Zombie’s take on What We Do in the Shadows, a brutal and biting satire of so-called transgressive artists and the art world at large. Every single one of our antagonists is looking to transform Christopher’s death into the next monumental, game-changing work of art, to build their name off of his demise; their delusions of grandeur and their fragile egos lead to a number of clashes both verbal and physical as Christopher sits duct-taped to a chair, watching in horror. Only one of our antagonists, Bill (William Lacey; have something to tell us, William?), is competent in any capacity, and he is a bona-fide psychopath who sublimates his impulses through painting. He is Chekov’s killer, hanging out in the background through the bullshit; his character arc proves to be the thesis of the film, I think. This film takes a swing at everyone in the art world, from producers to critics to studio techs. And when the jokes land, they’re phenomenal.
Unfortunately, the jokes don’t ALWAYS manage to land. I’m sure if I had been an art major (particularly with a focus on modern art) or ever been involved in film development this film would have been way funnier. Still, quite a few of them managed to land: Christopher’s ridiculous flailing and bumbling as he tried to escape elicited a couple chuckles, and some of the one liners and physical gags were fucking hilarious. What really made the film for me though was the climax, the last twenty or thirty minutes or so of the film. Things escalate and go to hell very, very quickly, and the ways in which some of the characters get their comeuppances were perfect, brutally executed with some above average practical effects. The penultimate chase scene is set to an 80’s style synth track, and goes beyond the bounds of the warehouse the film is (mostly) set in to make one final, violent statement about art criticism.
I have to give this one a solid 7. It isn’t the best horror comedy I’ve ever seen, and its commentary feels a bit too niche: while Ready or Not was packed with class commentary and Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil was a meta-critique of horror genre clichés, MURDER PARTY sometimes feels like it’s just railing against art school. Still, I have to appreciate this send-up of so-called “high culture” as a proud proponent of more than one film that critics see as substandard. If you’re looking for a laugh in these trying times, MURDER PARTY might just be the film for you.