One of the most interesting things about films with a very limited budget is the innovative way these limitations are used to their advantage. This is certainly the case with Murder Made Easy, the feature debut of director Dave Palamaro, as it shows that you don’t need a huge budget to make an engaging film, so long as you have a funny script and an enthusiastic cast.
Here’s a little synopsis: On the anniversary of her husband’s death, Joan (Jessica Graham) along with her friend / partner Michael (Christopher Soren Kelly) invites some mutual acquaintances for dinner. As past grievances resurface, the pair murder the guests one by one, and skeletons in each of the characters closets are laid bare, leading to a shocking revelation. From the very start, Murder Made Easy stakes its claim as a playful, cheesy whodunit with intentionally kitschy opening titles and overly dramatic music that recalls daytime murder mysteries like Murder She Wrote. There is a fun, pitch-black sense of humour running throughout and the supporting cast clearly have a ball playing various extreme caricatures.
They essentially each give a little showcase for their ghastly character before getting murdered. There’s a lifestyle guru, a hipster filmmaker, a hammy old actor and more. It gives the film a nice, episodic feel, highlighted even more by the stylish inter-titles that split up the chapters. The film as a whole feels a lot like a modern take on Stacy Title’s darkly comic The Last Supper, which had the same idea but focused more on morality. This film has no such scruples!
The script is generally witty, if a little on the nose in places, but there is also some risible dialogue and some quite broad performances. There are a couple of genuinely great turns though, especially Jessica Graham, who manages to convince as both a femme fatale and a vulnerable, sympathetic character and Daniel Ahearn as the smarmy independent filmmaker.
It’s shot well and emulates Hitchcock’s Rope with the use of a single location, and especially in the long takes – including an impressive 6-minute tracking shot. The restriction to one house creates an increasingly claustrophobic atmosphere and it’s an economic way to tell the film however, the house doesn’t feel especially lived in and it feels a little more like a filming location.
The thing I found most effective though was how the cheesy, kitsch atmosphere dissipates as the reality of murdering someone becomes apparent. The final denouement is well executed and performed, and it’s to the film’s credit that it doesn’t shy away from the unpleasantness of it all. It’s a stark contrast to the cartoon-like murders early on but the tonal shift is really striking and makes what could have been a light, forgettable film lodge firmly in the memory.
It’s easy to sound like I’m damning it with faint praise, but I really enjoyed Murder Made Easy for what it is. It’s fun and twisty, and regardless of budget limitations (and some slightly wooden performances) this is an assured feature debut. The atmosphere for both the schlocky murder mystery and the realistic crime thriller are handled deftly if not subtly and Palamaro’s film revels in the cheesy clichés of the murder mystery genre, with a funny, playful film that never outstays its welcome.
Murder Made Easy is out now on a Special Edition Blu-ray, order it by clicking here!