To make a murder mystery is a daunting task...
...The story needs to be clever enough to fool you on a few plot twists, it needs characters with clear, usually passionate motives, and it should be giving your brain some mild exercise. Making a murder mystery comedy is another beast entirely. How do you strike such a careful balance of suspense and humor? I respect any writer or filmmaker who dares to take a crack at it, and that’s just what writer/director Michael Lovan has bravely attempted with his new feature film, Murder Bury Win.
Three close friends create a board game in the hopes that it will top the charts in their niche gaming community. Hoping to fund their game through crowdsourcing, the friends anxiously wait for supporters, but don’t get any bites. Chris (Mikelen Walker) receives a phone call from a strange cryptic man, claiming he wants to hear them pitch their game to him. Surging with excitement, Chris, Barrett (Henry Alexander Kelley) and Adam (Erich Lane) pile into the car and speed to the given address. Upon arrival, they meet with the man, yet he seems a bit “off” in more ways than one. After a freak accident, the boys are forced to work together, using their own board game rules to get through the deadly situation.
Demographically, I have no idea who this film is supposed to appeal to. On one hand, it comes off like Donald Glover’s 2009 film, Mystery Team, with a goofy situation and colorful characters. But in that film, the tone, atmosphere (yes atmosphere is important in comedies) is bright and slightly oversaturated, further accentuating the silly tone of the script and animated actors. Murder Bury Win has those fun, dynamic characters, but it’s set against dull, poorly lit, drab sets. While it is competently shot, everything else doesn’t reflect the tone of the film, which is another thing that’s very inconsistent. One moment, there will be a genuinely chucklesome scene with slightly over the top antics, and the next scene will try to adopt a more serious tone, honing in on one of the characters’ moral dilemmas about murder. The music has kind of goofy vibe to it, which creates more dissonance considering the musical tone doesn’t change when the film tries to change. All of this makes for a frustrating viewing experience.
By far, the biggest offender here is the script. The movie just couldn’t seem to find a place to settle, and I don’t even mean settling on a genre necessarily. I’m more talking about its moment-to-moment scenes. The pacing is horrendous and we spend far too much time in one place. Scenes go on too long without moving the plot and when the humor doesn’t hit, which is most of the time, the film just comes off as awkward. I think there are good ideas built in and it even makes a few social comments on the relationship between the creator, the fans and what kinds of horrible things can happen in between in terms of buyouts, shady business deals etc. I really dug that about it, because it’s not something that gets talked about often. What I did not like was the irresponsible way it goes about trying to making you root for characters who clearly are doing the wrong thing. It’s one thing to have a morally ambiguous character, but the ultimate message of the film rubbed me the wrong way and made me dislike the lead character, Chris even more. One character who does manage to stand out is Eric Lane as Adam, the most reckless of the group. His comedic timing and line delivery is spot on. Lane has an electric kind of energy that just makes you want to keep watching. I actually wouldn’t be surprised if Lane adlibbed a lot of his lines.
Murder Bury Win is a problematic film with some serious script issues. I applaud Lovan for trying his hand at the genre, but there are just too many things stacked against it. Lane is great as Adam and there is some genuine chemistry between the boys, but the inconsistent tone and awkward comedic duds make this a largely unsatisfying affair.
Murder Bury Win comes to VOD April 27th from Gravitas Ventures.
By Jeffrey W. Hollingsworth