Murder Made Easy (2017) | Directed by David Palamaro
Written by Tim Davis, David Palamaro | Starring Jessica Graham, Christopher Soren Kelly, Daniel Ahearn
Take a group of six friends, add five courses of sumptuous food and sprinkle a generous amount of suspicion and motive before garnishing with a generous slice of debauchery and you have Murder Made Easy!
As the opening titles roll against a jazz infused score I’m put in mind of both Woody Allen’s Annie Hall and Hitchcock’s suspenseful one-shot masterpiece, Rope. Directed by David Palamoro, Murder Made Easy is also (as the title insinuates) rooted in the playroom drama of Agatha Christie’s great murder mysteries. After being introduced to Joan and Michael who will be the evenings’ hosts, we are then invited to take up a tableside seat to witness the conveyor belt of guests, all of whom will add to the ever-mounting plethora of secrets and lies.
Glamorously dressed, the couple sip on pre-dinner glasses of wine as a record player sends out notes of smooth music into the room; the setting here is distinctly middle class. To its credit, the film wastes no time with exposition which gives it an entertaining quality that is well sustained throughout its running time. Crucially, we are provided with scenes showing Joan and Michael alone before the string of guests arrive allowing us to gain a sense of the dynamic that exists between them which will shift and change as events unfold. The relationship status of the hosts is unclear as while they seem able to communicate on a certain level of intimacy there is also enough ambiguity conveyed in order to leave us wondering if they are friends, colleagues or lovers; a choice that serves the twists and turns of the film’s action.
We immediately learn that Joan is widowed and this is the one-year anniversary of the death of her husband Neil who happed to direct a version of The Mousetrap in which the guests of the dinner party starred. Joan however, confesses that she was not aware of this, an early sign that she is not as in the know as she (or we) might think. Not having knowledge of, or being aware of certain key facts is a theme that runs throughout Murder Made Easy as we come to find that there are things both small and significant that not all members of the group are privy to. What’s surprising is that Joan is also unaware that Michael has been placed on special leave following the publishment of a manifesto on natural order. Palamoro evokes Hitchcock once more with Michael’s assertion that ruling classes should be able to decide the fate of the underlings mirroring Rope’s Brendon Shaw’s belief that:
“Murder is a privilege for the few.”
‘Controversy is the cornerstone of greatness’ Michael declares confidently, but only dessert will tell if his actions stand in support of his words.
One by one the guests arrive, from the polite and professorial Marcus to the ambitious and straight-talking Angela. Each attendee will notably be given a token from the estate of Neil, a custom that seems well intentioned and thoughtful to begin with. However, these objects will soon be used against them as we come to learn that the four diners have all wronged the deceased in one way or another, a fact that Joan relishes reminding them of. What the group also have in common is they each have their own personal weakness ranging from alcoholism to vanity that will be exploited by the hosts to the fullest degree.
It’s upon the arrival of Damien, (a self-loving Casanova type who is sweet on Joan) that things begin to take an interesting and divisive turn and the perfect veneer that Joan and Michael have been so effortlessly presenting begins to crumble at the edges. We learn that there is history between Joan and Damien and in the privacy of the kitchen witness the hosts united front make way for a suspense-filled power play. As we watch them shift from public to private setting the temperature of their relationship also changes resulting in some cleverly conceived and genuine moments of tension. As things heat up between Joan and Damien, we are led to a twist that pushes the boundaries of conceivability and regrettably the film sacrifices believability in favour of pushing the plot forward.
The film is divided into courses marked with menu cards which works as a nice framing device that serves both a functional and aesthetical purpose. As we approach the final course entitled ‘Just Desserts’, the plot hops swiftly from one reveal to another, leaving little time or opportunity to question what transpires. Michael has one more task for fellow-host Joan and the arrival of an inquisitive police officer casts an uncertain shadow over the film’s conclusion.
For fans of multiple twists this will certainly keep you guessing right until the final moments when the rug is pulled out firmly and unsuspectingly from beneath us.
Overall, the strength of the film fluctuates in accordance with the quality of the performances which, being a dialogue-based film, it relies heavily upon. As a result, high points come in waves as scenes can only be enjoyed in concordance with those who manage to bring their character to life successfully. On the one hand, the film offers enough variety to avoid feeling repetitive but, in its attempts to distinguish one guest from another the characters walk a tightrope of feeling at times, a little bland and under-developed. Murder Made Easy is an enjoyable experience and with its darkly comic writing and sufficient number of twists it undeniably achieves many of the intentions which it sets out to fulfil.