‘When the coroner’s report comes in, it will say “Cause of Death – Art”’.
There’s a little After Hours (which is obliquely referenced in dialogue), a little The Ladykillers, a little The Last Supper and maybe even a little Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things in this low-budget but wry, energetic black comedy from writer-director Jeremy Saulnier, cast with what I suspect is a troupe of his friends.
On Halloween, schlub Chris (Chris Sharp) – a NYPD-affiliated traffic warden – picks up an invitation on the street to a ‘murder party’ and, having nothing better to do than watch rented horror films (‘Scarewolf’) with his insolent cat, Sir Lancelot, turns up at a warehouse loft space where a ‘collective’ of pretentious would-be artists plan on killing him as part of an artwork they hope will score them some of the grant money in the gift of tyrannical guru Alexander (Alex Barnett). However, the squabbling idiots and poseurs (‘I didn’t come to a Second Degree Assault Party’) blunder mostly to their own deaths – Chris brings along pumpkin bread with non-organic raisins which causes Sky (Skei Saulnier) to have an allergic reaction and bump her head on a sharp corner which kills her – while failing to agree on how to dispatch the tied-up victim in an artistic enough manner. Sharp cannily underplays as the resilient loser protagonist – who, early on, takes a hideous mask out of a large cardboard box and opts to make a knight-in-armour costume out of the box and duct-tape, then remains in this increasingly blood-spattered disguise throughout. The students are all hyperactive and obnoxious – skinny sexpot Lexi (Stacy Rock), dressed as Daryl Hannah from Blade Runner; Macon (Macon Blair), whose rubber werewolf mask gets melted hideously onto his face when he is set on fire; self-obsessed photographer Paul (Paul Goldblatt), who is talked out of his Anne Rice vampire costume when Alexander shows up in something similar, even invites a cheerily oblivious (and doomed) assistant (Beryl Guceri) to the crime; and patronised painter William (William Lacey), who broods in a Warriors-derived kabuki baseball costume and shows the biggest homicidal streak as he sets about an installation of living art (body-painted models) with an axe in the finale.
Alexander, who brings his drug dealer Zycho (Bill Tangradi) for muscle, dangles the prospect of the grant money in front of his acolytes, fucks Lexi and Paul and plays mindgames with them all, including the hilarious ‘extreme truth or dare’ (all the kids are playing it in Belarus) with sodium pentothal. When jabbed himself, Alexander reveals that he’s a penniless fry-cook named Max who really plans to kill the lot of them and pass their art off as his own, and doesn’t survive long. The joke is that everyone is so self-involved they don’t see what’s so wrong with what they are doing (the invite did say ‘murder party’, so what can Chris expect?) and even vaguely think their victim should collaborate with them (and the lonely guy blankly does join in some of the games). After an hour or so of comical chat and jabs at the art world, it becomes a splattery chase picture – winding up with a chainsaw to the head and Chris coming home, hardened enough to earn the respect of his cat. The unfamiliar cast (most have worked with Saulnier before on a short, Goldfarb) are uniformly excellent: not something you can often say about indie genre films.