“Murder Bury Win” opens an intimate and enticing portal into the indie board game universe. After its world premiere at the 2020 Cinequest Film Festival, the dark comedy continues to orbit fall circuits, including the Austin Film Festival as well as the Rhode Island International Film Festival. This acclaim affirms “Murder Bury Win” as a noteworthy success, a feat compounded by its apparent financial obstacles; behind the camera, the movie’s production funding came directly from director Michael Lovan with post-production partially funded by a fruitful Kickstarter campaign. Equally exciting, “Murder Bury Win” also marks Lovan’s solo directorial debut, and he additionally boasts credits as the film’s screenwriter, producer and editor.
Most of the action in “Murder Bury Win” unfolds in a single day, and the steady rhythm of trudging forward pulses throughout the movie. The film follows Chris (Mikelen Walker), Adam (Erich Lane) and Barrett (Henry Alexander Kelly), three board game zealots who’ve created their own game called “Murder Bury Win.” The object of the game demands players kill a person and dispose of the body.
While their game fails to accrue virtual funding, the trio’s luck appears to change when it meets an enigmatic recluse in his remote lodge. The recluse reveals himself to be V.V. Stubbs (Craig Cackowski), a renowned creator of independent board games and the protagonists’ idol. Yet, Stubbs seeks to buy “Murder Bury Win” and erase the guys’ credit. Their fantasy game’s premise begins to bleed into reality when Stubbs is killed in a freak accident, forcing Chris, Adam and Barrett to grapple with the uncertain fate of their game and a dead body.
The marvel of “Murder Bury Win” lies in its ability to swim the viewing expanse, satisfying desires for both a shallow comedy and dives for deeper meaning. The film seems to offer a darkly playful, poignant critique of ruthless capitalism, but it is first a comedy, enlivened by charming and talented leads. The camera in “Murder Bury Win” doesn’t try anything risky, which, on one hand, makes most of the movie feel like a filmed play. But on the other hand, it endows the characters with paramount importance.
Despite an admittedly jumpy start, the film’s offbeat humor finds its rhythm, in large part due to the leading performances. Walker, Lane and Kelly serve as solid, reliable leads, but Cackowski in particular finesses impressive comedy as a wild, cunning eccentric harboring a strange obsession with violence and murder weapons.
Filmic elements with the potential to go wrong — sensationalized soundtrack, on-the-nose dialogue, prolific voice-overs — somehow make sense in “Murder Bury Win.” The reality of the creators’ lives conflated with the fiction of their game allows Lovan to justify these precarious decisions and execute them with few misfires and general success. For instance, the scene between Chris and Officer Dan, played by a funny Brian Slaten, lands its jokes; after a while, however, it becomes clear that this scene has overstayed its welcome.
Despite the morbid murder fantasies, “Murder Bury Win” restricts these images to the imagination, noticeably shy to show violence or body gore. The squelches and splats signifying off-screen mutilation are sufficiently chilling, and it’s safe to say most people would opt out of seeing the guys shred through skin like it’s swiss cheese.
Lovan writes a smart script that preserves elements of surprise, suspense and humor while simultaneously outlining the story’s silhouette with clear clues. The plot of “Murder Bury Win” maps almost identically onto the titular game’s rulebook; the twists feel cushioned, but these softened narrative edges never meaningfully puncture nor deflate the viewing experience. In fact, the world of “Murder Bury Win” has seeped into our reality as the titular board game, designed by the film’s set designer Amy Everson, is available to actually be played! Overall, “Murder Bury Win” is an entertaining film tackling the niche, nerdy world of board games with refreshingly dry humor.