Murder Made Easy

When someone invites you to a dinner party you really shouldn’t have to wonder if you’ll leave in a rubber bag. But that’s the kind of reception a group of theater folk gets at a special kind of soiree.

Joan (Jessica Graham), a widow, and Michael (Christopher Soren Kelly), her secret boyfriend, throw a get-together to mark the one year anniversary of Joan’s husband’s death. Guests arrive one at a time, are fed — they’re obviously unaware that others have also been invited — and then meet an unfortunate fate. Each segment begins with a formal-looking menu showing what the next poor bugger is going to eat, then the frivolity begins. Turns out Joan has a bone to pick with each of them, after which they receive their just desserts.

From the look of the film’s poster you’d think glistening carving knives and crimson puddles of blood would be everywhere, but there’s remarkably little of either to be seen. Although, that’s part of the puzzle. There’s a twist at the end, like an Agatha Christie yarn. Early on, the actors mention Mousetrap, Dame Agatha’s murder mystery that’s been running in London’s West End since 1952. So it’s logical to assume that the venerable stage play was the inspiration, in part at least, for this production.

“…a widow and her secret boyfriend, throw a get-together to mark the one year anniversary of her husband’s death.”

Murder Made Easy has all the markings of a play, with its one-location setting and heaps of exposition mixed into the dialog. The acting is on the overly broad side, which can work on stage but tends toward the unnatural and distracting in front of a camera. More difficult still, the characters are the thinnest of thin caricatures of rather annoying individuals. A blowhard aging thespian, a self-involved radical vegan, ham actors, two-timers — you get the idea. Spending time with this pack of malcontents could be savage fun if handled properly, but the segments are all too similar in tone and content. After a while, you can’t help but hope the dinner hosts hurry up and do their worst.

On the plus side, some of Murder Made Easy’s camerawork is shot from interesting angles that help ratchet up the dramatic tension. And the musical soundtrack is an effective mood setter that helps move the scenes along.

Watching Murder Made Easy made me think of big-budget films of the past that pulled off the kind of sleight of hand this filmmaker might have been going for. Sleuth, for instance, a shining example of this genre, is practically a textbook on how it should be done. Of course, having Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine in the cast never hurts. But that film’s brilliant balance between character development and storytelling is hard to match. And it has one of the all-time great twists at the end.

As mentioned earlier, Murder Made Easy has a twist at its conclusion, as well. But it’s an awfully difficult one to buy into. Done properly, the ending should be clever enough to make the audience wonder why they had not noticed that the solution was staring them in the face the whole time. That’s the trick of it all, and it’s a tough one to master.

Murder Made Easy (2018) Directed by David Palamaro. Written by Tim Davis, David Palamaro.  Starring Jessica Graham, Christopher Soren Kelly, Daniel Ahearn, Emilia Richeson, Edmund Lupinski, Sheila Cutchlow, Paul A Rose Jr.

4 out of 10 bludgeons

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