When a man with nothing better to do accidentally comes across an invitation to a party on Halloween night, he assumes it to be little more than a typical costume party. But once he arrives, he quickly discovers that he’s not a party guest, but instead the would-be subject of a murderous art piece…in Murder Party.
PARTY OVER HERE
Written and director by Jeremy Saulnier, Murder Party is an incredibly strange movie. It’s more comedy than it is horror. It’s every bit as casually violent as it is disinterested in fleshing anything out or having any sort of consistent internal logic. And there isn’t much in the way of a story or plot or character work, but everything chugs along without feeling boring–pointless perhaps, but not boring.
Chris Sharp features as Christopher Hawley, an unimportant man of no consequence who accidentally comes into possession of an invitation to a “murder party.” When he arrives at the party that night with a home-baked cake, Chris comes face-to-face with a group of sadistic, self-absorbed artists eager to make him the subject of their next morbid piece. And from here Chris must escape his inept, comically pretentious captors before it’s too late.
Now, there are three distinct things that allow this movie to work so well as both comedy and horror.
The first is that Murder Party is effortlessly funny. It never stops to honk its nose or wink at the camera. Saulnier simply has a lot to say about many things. This isn’t just a self-aware horror movie, but also a commentary on horror films as an art form. There’s the obvious commentary on the stereotypical artist type–self-absorbed, conceited, and pretentious. And the dialog is sharp, witty, and rapid-fire.
And the camera work is every bit as fun and creative. The movie itself unfolds almost like a stage play, the camera swimming among the actors and all about the space of a warehouse, which is the movie’s primary and almost singular location. It’s just constantly moving in these beautiful series of long takes. Like the rest of the movie, the scenes just flow, and at a quick pace.
But what really solidifies this movie as an under-appreciated cult classic are the performances. Every character has their purpose, their moments to shine. And every single performer maximizes the mileage they get out of every line and scene. Chris Sharp has almost no lines in the movie, but his physical acting and facial expressions are gold. Macon Blair’s devious mastermind is delightfully punchable in every possible way. And all the lunatic artists around them go from subtle stereotypes to off-the-wall wacko cartoon characters with disturbing, seamless ease.
That said, Murder Party isn’t without some glaring faults.
For as many clever comments Murder Party has about horror movies–as a genre, on those involved with such productions, and even about the fans who enjoy them–it doesn’t do a lot to actively rectify such things.
For example: there’s no coherent logic for why the main character, Christopher, attends such an ominously titled event–he simply goes after finding an invitation in the street.
Now, it could be argued that this may be a way to highlight the convoluted rationalizations horror movies often make to get their characters to the wrong place at the wrong time. These characters need a reason to be at a haunted summer camp. They need a reason to find themselves in a less-than reputable corner of Eastern Europe where tourists are known to disappear.But in the case of Murder Party, the character simply shows up without a real reason other than he wanted to be there. And, again, this might be an attempt to poke fun at horror movies going out of their way to insist the story matters at all.
But even so, it’s ostensibly hypocritical to criticize after-thought storytelling in horror movies only to omit things like story and character motivations in your own. Crafting an engaging, if self-aware story that corrects the mistakes of other movies seems like a better approach than simply repeating them, even if it’s done so in a mocking tone. Because at that point, it’s as unaware of its own pretentious nature as those it’s commenting on. Of course, this also applies in the case that this narrative choice wasn’t made as commentary but as a narrative shortcut itself.
And then there’s the issue of Christopher being a one-dimensional character with no depth or personality all his own. He simply drifts through the story from beginning to end. He has little to say or do but accidentally get into and out of trouble. He only acts when the script needs something to happen. The movie needs a victim, so Christopher goes to the party. It needs someone to witness the pretentious ramblings and actions of the artists-slash-killers, so Christopher is in the room. It needs a chase sequence, so Christopher gets loose at one point or another. He’s the least interesting character with the least interesting role and the least interesting actions and dialog.
If the movie was going to dedicate so much time commenting on horror movies by way of the artists-slash-murders, then it probably should have focused on them from start to finish. They’re more nuanced, more interesting. Seeing them plot and plan the Murder Party only for it to not go according to plan or live up to expectations would give the movie a driving central conflict, a clever, self-aware story, and interesting character motivations while also allowing it to comment on how other horror films often lack such things (or perhaps fail to execute such things in a commendable manner).
At just under 80 minutes, there’s simply no reason to not watch and enjoy Murder Party. It isn’t as clever or as well-executed as it thinks it is. But it is funny. It is appropriately violent and bloody. And it never stops being weird, fun, and violent.
If there is a reason to avoid Murder Party, it’s that you’re more interested in scares and screams than you are laughs. But don’t let that stop you from CHILLING with Murder Party once you get that itch for something a little twisted.