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I don't mean to get emotional, but it doesn't get much worse than being alone on Halloween. The only holiday worth celebrating is also a social one, whether that means trick or treating as kids, hanging out with a loved one watching horror flicks or attending a costume party. Just the thought of a lone trick-or-treater brings a fucking tear to my eye--some poor friendless ghost child still determined to get candy out in the streets alone. Fuck man, now I'm all bummed. That's some shit you spill to a therapist or they put in your made for TV movie later in your life.  Getting in costume to beg for candy is a group activity, and the same goes for getting dressed up as a fictional character to get drunk. The Halloween party is the stuff of anonymous bad choices and exciting fashion statements. It's important to spend at least one night in your life with Dracula, the Wolfman and a gaggle of Harley Quinns (or whatever it is that year) as they melt away back into regular (drunk) people.  Above all else, I find Halloween to be a romantic holiday. Breaking out a few classics you’ve saved for October and getting all hugged up with a partner, pausing only for snacks and to hand out candy when the doorbell rings, is some next level American-dream type shit in my opinion. It doesn't get much better, and once you have properly experienced it in its entirety, no other holiday sexiness will do. Nothing says lovemaking like fake gore. No matter what your Hallows Eve entails, an almost universal ideal states that you spend it with others, and there is even a social reason to wear a mask in front of people as an added incentive. So being forced to spend that time solo can be depressing at best. Sure you can still get dressed up, watch a few horror flicks and even try to explain the nuances of Hellraiser 2 to a pet, but that doesn't feel as fulfilling on Halloween (as it does on a normal day) when somewhere human people are getting spooky together-- without you. So I can almost see why the protagonist of Murder Party (2007) made a choice to attend something called a “murder party” after finding a mysterious invitation on the ground. Almost.
Christopher, a solitary government employee, plans to spend Halloween with his cat and a few horror flicks he picked up. On his way home from the rental store, he sees a very elaborate invitation on the sidewalk for something called a “murder party”. Not one to waste good stationery, he takes the fancy card to his abode with him to settle down for a lonely night of candy corn and movies. When he goes to sit in the single chair in his apartment, he finds his cat already using it. He politely asks it to move, but, characteristically, the cat does not comply. It must have been the last straw in the relationship because this makes Chris decide to cancel the couple’s holiday plans and attend what (I guess) he assumes is a murder-mystery themed party (or something) despite it being obviously a little out of character for him. He is a pretty crafty dude, and not wanting to show up empty handed, he whips up some kind of pumpkin loaf real quick as well as a sweet knight costume made of cardboard to wear and heads out into the world after passive-aggressively talking shit to his cat some more. Making his way through rapping public transit riders, hordes of costumed partyers and spooky industrial areas, he arrives at a basement level warehouse in a suspiciously remote part of town. There, he is greeted by a small group of costumed individuals who all drop the weird shit they are doing to greet him. Right away, shit starts to seem fucked as the room is mostly filled with random weapons, and the gang of snickering strangers crowds in on Chris, seemingly doing their best high school bully impressions. A few awkward moments later, some lackluster pleasantry leads into a botched attempt on his life, and after a frantic tussle, Chris ends up tied to a chair.  Unfortunately, the invitation said “murder party” because this group intends to kill somebody as some kind of career-launching, creative performance. As it Turns out, poor Christopher has run into a troupe of art-students all trying to leave their mark on the world and possibly obtain a $300,000 grant being lorded over each of them by some guy named Alexander. With the help of fate, Chris has unknowingly positioned himself as the subject of the poorly planned endeavor, but luckily for him, everyone involved is too full of themselves to do anything right. The project goes downhill fast as a night full of drugs, sex, and bad life choices follows instead. As it should be, art is complicated and subjective, but there is coke involved so it counts as a party, and there is definitely some murder before it is over.
Murder party has a unique comedic charm that runs consistently throughout, no matter what's happening on screen. At first, it seems like a brand of humor orbiting close to the awkward, surreal non-jokes made popular by things like Napoleon Dynamite (2004) with hints of British comedy television, but by the time the first blood drop hits the floor, it is evident that the style is very much it's own. The inspirations are broad, coming from classic comedy routines, horror, and even some sci-fi. It's situational humor, relying on a sequence of unlucky, or even fateful events to create a mousetrap of allusion and satire. The movie squeezes a lot of real-world insecurity and loneliness out of it's quick, silly dialogue and not just from the relatable main character but also the wannabe prodigy assholes that take him captive. It is definitely an “indie” film and has the proto-hipster vibe to match, all while it openly pokes fun at the deep art crowd that mostly partakes in this type of film. Somehow it manages to be subtle when still being overtly ridiculous at the same time, with gags that come in both broad and simple strokes. There is a level of slapstick in there somewhere akin to a Leslie Nelson film but hidden under layers of life experience and all too real personalities. Shock is a large part of the overall entertainment value, and the movie is almost segmented into chapters by abrupt brutal on-screen violence. The cross segment of art students and their tribulations lull you into a fall sense of safety before a death comes out of nowhere. Even as it has happened multiple times before, you can start to believe in a characters narcissism right before they get it in some fucked up way. The crew of artists is made of people I feel like I have met, completely full of themselves and indifferent to the real world. They are not the normal kind of movie evil, just chronically selfish and insecure. The rainbow of megalomaniacs contrasts against their victim, the boring government worker, who finds a way to contemplate his negative effects on the world around him along with his feelings of insignificance. Almost every character feels like a familiar douchebag, relatable extreme or both. The writing uses a sharp, layered wit and it can be fun to pick apart on multiple viewings, but at face value, it is just pure dark entertainment. Whether on purpose or not, it destructs the “important” indie film formula that it's born from (in more ways than one) without feeling too “meta” or like a parody.
I have no real technical complaints. Despite its visible tight budget, the chaos holds together well. It makes good use of a select few locations, mostly the warehouse that Chris is held captive in. The confinement of the story feels natural, not brought on by resources. Inside the location, lighting is fittingly dingy for the surroundings,and sometimes it experiments a little with color during choice moments. The camera runs circles around the room to chase the quick manic action, and dialogue only verges on the annoying, unnatural high-speed conversation style that some “smart” indie films use. It's firmly planted in reality no matter how brutal or silly the action is, and the film somehow dodges any corn while mixing its horror and comedy. The gore is somewhat plentiful for this type of flick and somehow always seems to come out of nowhere. It's all respectable splatter and really doesn't pull any punches in its effects in this regard. The final scenes have kind of a “throwing buckets of syrup at Bruce Campbell” thing going on, but it's pretty fucking fitting at the moment. Accompanying the film is a very reserved soundtrack that keeps it all business apart from a few “scene” appropriate post-punk tracks for street cred. There are large periods of time where the scoring is absent and it speaks to the horror elements of the blend. It’s heavy, but it works and ends up with a Hostel (2005) meets classic Universal monster flick sound going on in that department. If anything, the editing gets a little textbook, and the cheap digital filming hinders some of the speedier camera movement, but overall it is the kind of film that couldn't have done much better with a larger budget.
The film was the first full-length feature for writer/director Jeremy Saulnier and his production crew “The Lab of Madness”. The group started production on the film immediately following their short film Crabwalk (2004) and with no outside financial backing until the project had already picked up some steam. Saulnier would go on to make Green Room in 2015 with Patrick Stewart and the late Anton Yelchin utilizing several of the same techniques, including abrupt grotesque violence. A lot of the film's strength comes from its well placed on-screen talent, as everyone looks and physically acts the part. Founding Lab of Madness member Chris Sharp plays the anxiety-ridden protagonist perfectly, even tied and gagged for most of the film. A majority of the main cast has double duty, taking a production credit of some kind as well as their roles, and have only taken part in a handful of low budget films (in the same Swiss Army knife fashion). Bill Tangradi looks like a familiar face as the Russian drug dealer, but I have probably just seen him on Law and Order or some shit.
Murder Party is a refreshing, holiday-themed cup of jet black humor and blood.  It isn't a horror film really, but it probably has at least one more effective violent moment in it than the last few straight horror flicks you have seen. The comedy is oddly dynamic, and there is a lot of it, ranging from gore-gags to subtle human behavioral humor. There is a good chance it's going to be one of those hate it or love it type flicks. It's probably not for everyone, but in this case, that’s almost a good thing as it wouldn't do well for imitation. Not wanting to hype it up too much, I think everyone should give it a try, even if the fact that I said “indie” like three times in this review scared you a little bit. I find it oddly life-affirming and a good break from my normal October horror-a-thon. Here’s hoping I'm never lonely enough to fall for something like poor Chris. Now if you will excuse me, I need to go costume shopping with my dog, and I should get all my crying out beforehand.
1h 19min | 2007
Director: Jeremy Saulnier
Writer: Jeremy Saulnier 


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