Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Murder Party

Murder Party is the product of some kind of bizarre new offshoot of the straight-to-video indie scene that the internet tastemakers are calling "hipster horror." For those of you not living in a major metropolitan area, a "hipster" is a shockingly skinny, desperately interesting person in impractical pants who has moved from a small town to either New York or Los Angeles, where his or her laboriously louche behavioral affectations and wardrobe eccentricities will pass largely unnoticed except by others of his or her ilk. The modern hipster loves irony, asymmetrical haircuts, and music that sounds like eighties music but is made by people who are too young to remember the eighties. It is important to note that anyone claiming to be a hipster is, in fact, a poseur: "hipster" is a pejorative term that only a clueless non-hipster would willingly embrace. In fact, the average hipster's primary hobby is mocking the pretentiousness of hipsters. This is why I'm not exactly sure if I'm a hipster or not. While my pants fit me properly and my haircut is not constructed of angles impossible to achieve under the laws of Euclidian geometry, I do display some admittedly hipster tendencies in that I: a) live in Brooklyn, b) wear oversized aviator glasses, and c) rock the fuck out every time Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" comes on. Personally, I would classify myself as a geek who knows how to dress himself, but to others, I may be just another pseudo-artsy suburbanite who migrated to the city so I could feel superior to those I left behind. I'll let you be the judge.

Murder Party tells the story of a nebbishy nerd who finds an invitation to a Halloween party on the sidewalk. On a lark, he makes himself an endearingly chintzy knight costume out of cardboard and attends the party, which is held at a warehouse in the formerly working-class neighborhood of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the most virulent hotbed of hipster activity in North America—although the hipsters currently living there will tell you that Billyburg (as it is no longer cool to call it) has been over for at least five years now. With Williamsburg having gone mainstream, the hipster wave pushes ever east, into post-industrial wasteland Bushwick (or "East Williamsburg," as the realtors are calling it now), converting crumbling commercial property into overpriced loft spaces.

Anyway, the nerd shows up at the party and is promptly knocked out and tied to a chair by a collection of hipster archetypes: the furry freak-folk fan, complete with hoodie and drinking problem; the upper-class Jewish boy slumming it for art; the laconic bipster ("blue-collar hipster," The Hipster Handbook, 2002) whose skilled artwork is derided by his peers as being too representational; the lanky, small-breasted slut, all elbows and ribs, who creates installation art as an outlet for her monstrous narcissism; and so on. Through their self-involved gibberings, you eventually ascertain that they are members of an art collective who have kidnapped the nerd on the orders of Alexander, a pompous bisexual who rules the Williamsburg art scene by claiming to control $300,000 in grant money. It's Alexander's idea to murder the nerd for art. ("At the witching hour, we'll stab him. We'll stab until he dies," he says, a tiny smirk on his placidly self-bemused face.)

By this point, the movie could easily descend into the kind of distractingly arch dimestore nihilism trafficked in by smug torture trash like Chaos or Funny Games. Instead, it retains a satirical bent not dissimilar to Roger Corman's pitch-black beatnik parody Bucket of Blood. As the movie goes on, every actor manages to find the human core of the broad stereotype he or she is playing. In fact, the film turns into a Breakfast Club/Hostel hybrid when the hipsters all take sodium pentathol and sit in a circle, revealing uncomfortable truths about themselves. It's a weird and welcome choice to spend the movie's second act letting the audience get to know and like the villains more than the victim, but it pays off when they turn on each other in an orgy of bloodletting that culminates in a rooftop chase and an axe-vs.-chainsaw fight.

I liked this movie a lot more than I thought I would. Its tone is playful without being goofy, and it looks and sounds great considering the low budget. It was made by a group of childhood friends called Lab of Madness who have been making movies together since the days of VHS class projects. As such, the cast has a unique rapport that is remarkably polished, especially in light of the fact that most of them have never had a legitimate film job. On the strength of this funny, gory surprise, I would keep my eyes peeled for whatever these guys do in the future.

I normally grade these DIY shot-on-video flicks on a curve, but this one can stand on its own terms against any mainstream horror movie that came out this year. In a horror scene that has become so damn serious in recent years, Murder Party manages to be lots of fun without insulting your intelligence or relying on moth-eaten nostagia. Attention, Hollywood: If you can't give us the hot shit, Brooklyn's just gonna have to do it for you. The sun rises in the east, bitches.

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