The Murder Game DVD Review
Written by Milos Jovanovic
Released by Warner Bros.
Directed by Robert Harari
Written by Robert Harari and Jason Contino
2006, 87 minutes, Not rated
DVD released on September 4th, 2007
Steve Polites as Eric
Katie Sirk as Trish
Samuel Klein as Colin
Julia Pickens as Lucy
Christina Marchano as Sarah
Ariana Almajan as Carrie
Vince Eustace as Will
Erik Solliard as Dexter
Max Hambleton as Donny
Somewhere in the vast open spaces of American suburbia, a bunch of bored teenagers found a new way to kill time — "the murder game". Essentially, it's a slightly more twisted variety of "hide & seek"; everyone draws a card, queen of Spades is "the killer", and his task is to off everyone. Not so surprisingly, this form of entertainment runs into some objection from the parental crowd, so soon enough the kids are stuck without their favourite pastime.
That is, until Eric, who seems to have a particular liking for the game, decides to stage an all-night bonanza of make-believe murder at a large self-storage warehouse. The gang is initially reluctant, but they all agree in the end. Initially, it seems to be a proper blast and a night's worth of sheer fun. Until, in the best slasher tradition, people start really dropping dead, and we have a problem...
The Indie industry keeps getting better. I will spare you from yet another introductory rant in which I bemoan the fact that every bozo with enough cash to buy a DV cam is suddenly a horror director — instead, I will simply tell you that The Murder Game is the most accomplished independent effort to yet land in my mailbox. Obviously not satisfied by just putting out his name in the rental shelves, director Robert Harari patched together an impressive effort here — The Murder Game looks, acts, feels and smells like a genuine motion picture, and not some backyard "dude, let's make a scary movie !!!111" mishmash.
While I'm not much for the slashers, this film kept me reasonably entertained throughout, and sitting through the 90 minutes of its running time wasn't much of a chore (high praise this, coming from me). Harari, this being his first feature length, and Jason Contino, serving here as the co-producer and the director of photography, set the tone by making their effort looking rather polished. Indiehounds looking for shoddy direction, chop-hack editing and amateurish props need not look here, for The Murder Game is almost spotless in those departments. Special props are reserved for Contino, who very seldomly lets us know that this, actually, is a shot-on-DV venture, thanks to some clever and efficient lighting and many, for this level of play, inventive setups. Editing, courtesy of Harari and David A. Cross, is also major league work. The FX folks fill in the gaps by providing us with some rather realistic murder set-pieces — couple of stabs, slashes and even a beheading are all to be observed within the running time.
The actors have been kind enough to follow suit. Steve Polites, Katie Sirk and Samuel Klein lead the nine-piece ensemble cast, which acquits itself solidly. Most of the choice cuts belong to the lead trio (Klein looks like a dead ringer for Ian Astbury, better known as the lead vocalist for "The Cult"), but there is some spark in the support as well — I enjoyed Julia Pickens as Lucy, the Ripley-esque female part, and Vince Eustace and Erik Soulliard are fun as a couple of stoners. While Ariana Almajan and Christina Marchand look good, they are the token "omigosh we're gonna get KILLLLLLLLED!!!!" horror film characters, and as such there is not really enough of meat to their parts. Similarily, Max Hambleton is a glorified bit part himself. Still, even them are less irritating (if at all) when compared to the usual bill of fares.
Plot, while basic, works good. In its essence, this is a simple film and the director, seemingly of his own volition, kept it simple, opting to go the classic slasher route with a twist towards the ending, which was also interestingly handled. The lack of pompousness definitely aids the overall cause, which is a refreshing change from the usual "look at us, we're horror stars" shtick. There are also two nods to contemporary horror I enjoyed. First, there is a scene in which Klein's character refutes the theories that the killer is out for them for some reason, simply stating that he's probably just crazy without strings attached. With this, I felt Harari took a shot at the recent trend of horror pictures in which every psycho has to have a motive behind him (see The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning or Rob Zombie's Halloween), and pleaded for a return of plain "psycho" psychotics. Another nod is towards the very end, but I won't reveal it in its entireness as it would spoil the finale — I'll just say it has something to do with a Stephen King novel which was successfully filmed in the '70s.
There is not many things which hamper this film, but they should be noted as well. First of all, Harari and Contino essentially pulled a Bull Durham on us by casting a bunch of twenty-somethings as high school kids. This, obviously, can be forgiven as it is conceivably due to the fact this was a labour of love project, so with real budget and funds they would probably manage this the right way. Other weak spot is the occasional shot of the warehouse from the outside with ominous thunderstorm raging around — quite frankly, it looks like they just propped up a LEGO construction and toyed with some CGI for the storm. The insertion of it just looks amateurish, and should have been left on the cutting floor, or better yet, in Harari's head, filed under "maybe this ain't such a great idea".
So what's next for Harari, Contino and the rest of 500 Pieces production co.? No clue, but judging from this, it could be promising. Bring it on, minus the intermezzo outside thunderstorm shots though.
Video and Audio:
Murder Game is presented in 1.85 non-anamorphic, and it looks very, very good. As noted above, quality lighting goes a long way, and the DV almost looks like film here — almost. Still, very good image quality when compared to usual genre fodder.
The only audio option on the disc is a Dolby 2.0 English track, and I've no complaints about it whatsoever. There are no subtitles included on the disc.
- Audio commentary with Robert Harari, Jason Contino, David A. Cross (assistant director) Katie Sirk and Steven Polites
- Deleted Scenes
- Outtake Reel
- "The Puzzle", Robert Harari's debut short
The commentary is a mixed bag. Two people are a whole crowd for commentaries, but five is certainly a touch too much. As it stands, Harari and Contino attempt their best to explain some of the nuances of indie filmmaking, but they stray too many times into casual chatter with the rest of the crew. The fivesome involved is obviously having fun, but for a casual listener it will likely be more of a chore. Sirk remarking how nobody from the girls had a stiff nipple despite the extreme cold is a riot, though.
There are three deleted scenes presented on the disc, all three with Harari's commentary superimposed. While the first two scenes are purely cosmetic, showing us some extra foreplay to the love scenes, the third scene, in which Eric's character gets fleshed out a bit, could have been left in the film.
The outtake reel is a bit too padded at nearly 10 minutes of running time, yet it remains mostly entertaining. Most of the material seems to involve Sirk's mishaps, but there is enough stuff here to make every cast (and crew) member blush.
There is a theatrical and a teaser trailer available. Personally, I felt the teaser trailer left a better impression, where the theatrical looks a bit too stock-ish for my tastes. Both are short though, so give them a whirl.
"The Puzzle" is a short Harari and Contino produced a few years back as a student film, and it's a neat little chiller which fits well on this disc. Put short, it's a story of a girl who receives a puzzle package, then proceeds to make it while progressively feeling less and less comfortable in process. Sure, it's predictable, and the video is grainier than a shed full of wheat, but it does leave you slightly queasy. A worthy addition.
Overall, this is a solid, well-rounded extras package. Only thing I can fault here is the lack of making of, which I would have liked.
Click cover to purchase.
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