While Hollywood has provided audiences with TV shows and movies to fulfil our obsession with the grisly nature of murder mysteries, we’ve also been blessed with many much lighter takes on the matter. Clue, Murder By Death, Hot Fuzz and not to mention Rian Johnson’s hugely popular Knives Out have been taking a farcical comedic take on the genre for as long as I can remember. It must also be asked, who does farcical comedies better than French filmmakers?
Murder Party is a highly comedic French murder mystery film directed by and co-written by Nicolas Pleskof, along with awarded detective story writer Elsa Marpeau. It follows troubled architect Jeanne (Alice Pol) who has been contracted by famed children’s board game designer César Daguerre (Eddy Mitchell) to submit a design for renovations to turn his lavish mansion into a real-life gaming experience.
After meeting the bizarre inhabitants of the Daguerre household, Jeanne‘s presentation much to her chagrin is turned down by the eccentric patriarch. Before she can leave the estate, the gates are locked, César is dead, the entire Daguerre clan are held captive, forced to play games of life and death, and it is up to Jeanne to investigate exactly whodunit.
Murder Party is interesting film, while initially I went in thinking it would be a Knives Out knock off (the film’s poster is so alike, it’s farcical in itself), I found myself enjoying it just as much. While Knives Out started off as a murder mystery before subverting expectations by taking a left turn in focus and in doing so effectively erased the majority of the cast from the list of possible suspects, Murder Party although subversive in its own right, feels more like 1985’s Clue, a film filled to the brim with comedy and never quite taking itself seriously, but not losing that heart that this is supposed to be a comedic murder mystery.
With that, comes the twists and turns, some of these land extremely well as Jeanne investigates what exactly is going on. There’s plenty of red herrings and many little hints which don’t quite make sense until the end. The only negative is that for not a very long 100-minute movie with perhaps one twist too many, it did feel like it wasn’t quite sure how it wanted to end.
However, the cast of characters really makes Murder Party shine, with each one is just cheesy enough and just as twisted enough to stand out without ever overstaying their welcome. Alice Pol is endearing as the tormented Jeanne with her pockets full of a medicine cabinet’s worth of pills and anti-anxiety drugs, Theo (Pablo Pauly) is the lusty heir to the Daguerre empire, Josephine (Miou-Miou) the new widow, Armand (Gustave Kervern) the butler who’s in love with Salomé (Pascale Arbillot), the insane princess. Everybody in the film feels like they’re a parody of an Agatha Christie character but that is exactly what I’m looking for in a movie like this.
From start to finish Murder Party is a sumptuous feast for the eyes. Although some camera angles and crazy shots early in the film were reminiscent of a Wes Anderson movie, the costume and art design made me think more of Baz Luhrmann, which much like Knives Out, makes this film such a beautiful thing to see. I’ve been very lucky that the last few movies I’ve reviewed have all had such incredible visuals and the vibrant colours on display here blew me away.
The quirky score by Amaury Chabauty, which is one of those themes you don’t mind sitting through an opening credits sequence for is also fantastic.
Putting one in mind of Cluedo, every character in the film is allotted a colour: Jeanne = blue, Theo = red, Salomé = green etc. Also, every location in the film is bursting with flavour and it’s amazing that we never have any ‘floating head’ moments where these two things clashed. Even the use of day for night, a film-making technique of tinting daytime footage in such a way it appears to be night (a personal pet peeve of mine as it almost never looks real) worked in this film as the colour palette on display here was already so wonderfully over the top, it fit.
Murder Party is a fun film which takes the whodunit premise and does exactly what it sets out to do in a stylish surprising, and at times, hilarious fashion.