Austin Film Festival: “Murder Bury Win” is a grisly game worth playing

Murder Bury Win Murder Bury Win (Austin Film Festival)

“Rough Night” meets a board game pitch gone awry in this memorable dark comedy.

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Chris (Mikelen Walker), Adam (Erich Lane) and Barry (Henry Alexander Kelly) are a trio of friends with an ambition: to produce a darkly humorous board game called Murder Bury Win. Unfortunately, things aren’t going well so far. Their attempt at crowdsourcing funds for the game went nowhere. Right now, it seems like they’ll never produce the kind of board games that litter the shelves of the shop where Chris works.

However, the self-centered Adam soon receives a mysterious phone call that could change all their lives forever. A voice that refuses to identify himself asks all three if they could come down to an old cabin in the woods and have a meeting with him. This meeting is terse from the get-go and things only get more intense once Chris, Adam and Barry find themselves with a corpse on their hands. Now, the trio who made a board game all about covering up a murder will have to do that in the real world. Do not pass Go, folks, it’s time to destroy a corpse. 

If nothing else, Murder Bury Win proves engaging on a level of morbid curiosity over what grisliness these characters will find themselves in next. Granted, it’s hard to tell if Murder Bury Win would remain this compelling on repeat viewing. Maybe this is another case of The Perfection where all the goodness lies in the shock value of an initial viewing. Regardless, Murder Bury Win does keep your attention, mostly due to how well writer/director Michael Lovan handles the escalating chaos of the story.

In less graceful hands, plopping a corpse into a down-to-Earth story could have felt clumsy. But Murder Bury Win’s script makes it another extension of the movie’s suspenseful vibe. Lovan’s screenplay is a tense affair even before the lead characters have to deal with a dead body; the tension over whether this trio will be able to impress a potential investor is exceedingly palpable. The presence of a dead body is just another moment of suspense, rather than an unwelcome intrusion to the story. 

Murder Bury Win proves engaging on a level of morbid curiosity over what grisliness these characters will find themselves in next.

It also helps that the dark comedy never loses sight of its three protagonists, and who they were before they came to the cabin. By keeping Chris, Adam and Barry as a constant anchor onto which audience can latch, it becomes easier to buy the strange places Murder Bury Win goes. Plus, watching this trio playing off a dead person offers plenty of opportunities for comedy. Nowhere is the combination of amusing laughs and characterization better seen than in a shot of Adam dragging around a dead body in the background of Chris and Barry having a relaxed talk. This image proves amusing on its own. Yet, it’s also a helpful reminder that Chris and Barry are human beings beyond just this inadvertent murder. 

The best result of Murder Bury Win constantly keeping its characters on its mind, though, is anything related to Barry. This good-natured soul is always cognizant of how horrific this scenario is. Adam and Chris are always thinking of a way to get out of trouble. Barry, meanwhile, has a moral compass pointed firmly at doing the right thing. This means Barry’s perspective wrings potent moments of sadness related to the gravity of this situation. Add in a convincing performance from Henry Alexander Kell and Barry proves to be the most potently tragic part of this dark comedy.

Another standout element throughout Murder Bury Win is an excellent score by Jonathan Snipes & David Rothbaum. Their music hops all over the place in terms of stylistic influence. Sometimes, the score channels the ominous electronic buzz of Disasterpeace’s It Follows score. Other times, Snipes & Rothbaum use everyday sounds in their score, like the ticking of a timer or the cracking of wood. Such noises reaffirm how well the score sells the internal panic of our characters.

Of course, not every piece of Murder Bury Win works as well as its score or characters. An extended mid-movie interaction between Chris and a nosy police officer, for example, goes on a bit too long. As a whole, though, Lovan has crafted a mighty enjoyable dark comedy, one that gets a lot of mileage out of committing to a unique premise. This commitment is reflected in the tiniest of details, like background sight gags revolving around parodies of modern-day board games (like a Cards Against Humanity riff called Puppies on Fire). 

Murder Bury Win has as much of an expertise for the world of board games as it does with executing suspenseful dark comedy. Roll the dice and take a chance. 

Murder Bury Win Trailer:

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