Murder Made Easy feels like a devilishly clever riff on Rope, Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece of minimalism. That film featured two Leopold and Loeb-type killers who strangle a classmate, before arrogantly inviting over dinner guests and taunting an agile Jimmy Stewart to solve the crime. Like its cinematic ancestor, Murder takes place in one apartment, and depicts an icy, sociopathic couple who delight in the construction and execution of their bloody endeavor. Director David Palamaro and his skilled troop of actors deliver a fun, tautly-constructed little murder mystery, one that might keep you guessing all the way through.
The story begins as Joan (Jessica Graham) and Michael (Christopher Soren Kelly) lure their circle of friends to his terrifyingly tidy apartment for dinner. They construct this event under the guise that she’s still mourning the loss of her late husband. In a twist, they invite these disparate friends piecemeal, rather than trying to corral everybody for one meal. Turns out, Joan and Michael harbor a grudge against each guest: An older mentor (Edmund Lupinksi) held back Joan’s late husband, while an obnoxious, hippie entrepreneur fleeced him out of some money…and so on. The couple gets every guest to relax, before dishing what they believe to be poetic justice. Much like Hitchcock’s killers, it’s only a matter of time before Joan and Michael’s own hubris gets the better of them.
As with any good thriller, Murder Made Easy relies on smart, clocklike craftsmanship to sell its thrills. Its plot is deceptively layered with little details and bits of dialogue that might play a larger part than you think. Palamaro eschews rapid-fire cuts in favor of long, unbroken takes that actually amplify the tension of the movie. Many of the murders happen off-screen, a clever trick that harkens back to old-school filmmaking. Palamaro hides many of his influences in plain sight, and part of the entertainment is spotting them as they pop up.
Recent movie history is replete with thrillers that seem expensively-made and cheaply-written. Murder gives an engaging flip to that: It was clearly made on a low-budget, and yet hooks the viewer with a series of winding curves and some self-assured performances. Graham may be a brunette, but she otherwise has the frozen soul of a Hitchcockian femme fatale down to the molecule. Kelly also does fine work as man who’s either too edgy and lovestruck for his own good or a lot smarter than he lets on. Emilia Richeson adds a dash of comedy as a daffy woman who plays the granola beatnik until there’s money to be had. Combine all this and you get Murder Made Easy, which should be a damn good time for any murder aficionado.
76 minutes. Not rated.