Review: The role-playing games afoot in charming black comedy Murder Bury Win – Ars Technica8 min read

https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2021/05/review-the-role-playing-games-afoot-in-charming-black-comedy-murder-bury-win/

Three friends trying to create their own RPG game about getting away with murder get more than they bargained for in the new black comedy, Murder Bury Win.

Three friends get more than they bargained for when they think they are about to hit the gaming big-time in Murder Bury Win, a charming black comedy that proved to be a fan favorite at last year’s Austin Film Festival. It certainly won’t dislodge 1985’s cult classic, Clue, as the best movie yet made about a board game (“Flames… on the side of my face!“), but it’s very solid indie fare, and a lot of fun.

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

Per the official synopsis:

Three friends have created a board game, Murder Bury Win, and they think it has what it takes to become a bestseller on the indie charts. When their attempt to crowdfund fails, a mysterious man makes them an offer: he will publish their game on the condition that he takes credit as the sole creator and owner. After a dispute over the gaming rights leaves them with a body on their hands, the young men realize how suspiciously like murder the freak accident appears. Now, with few options remaining, they look to their game for guidance. The premise of their game? How to murder someone… and get rid of the body.

Chris (Mikelen Walker, All American), Adam (Erich Lane, Dear White People), and Barrett (Henry Alexander Kelly) worship a mysterious game designer named V.V. Stubbs, best known for his RPG Murder Wall. They aspire to be like their hero, and dream of having the blockbuster success of another crowd-funded game, Puppies on Fire (a running gag that alludes to the popular crowd-funded game Exploding Kittens). So when they think they’ve found a potential backer, they are more than willing to take seven different buses to meet with said benefactor in a remote, ramshackle house deep in the forest.

The film is at its best when celebrating the passion and enthusiasm of its main characters, with game play frequently shot as its it were really happening—and it is, inside the players’ vivid imaginations. The trio’s nerd-gassing argument about whether a bear trap could be a viable murder weapon is note-perfect. (Think of it as Chekhov’s bear trap.) C’mon, the staple gun and the corn cob are even less potentially lethal.

In terms of the interpersonal dynamics, essentially, Chris is caught in the middle between the irreverent, greedy, and frankly rather obnoxious Adam, and the softer, gentler, more idealistic Barrett, who admits he prefers cooperative play to ruthless competition.  It’s like having a devil and an angel on either shoulder, pressuring Chris to make a choice. And it’s Chris’s choice, when the chips are down, that sets the final act in motion.

The fictional game itself involves all players drawing three murder and three bury cards, and then discarding the two bury cards they decide they don’t want. (“meat grinder, “hide it in a coffin,” “encase in cement,” and “feed to wild boars” are all discarded options.) There are also Unforeseen Circumstance cards to foil their schemes (“pepper sprayed,” or “cops arrive”). Then they roll the dice and move their tokens around the board, hoping to be the first to get away with their fantasy murder.

Their mysterious benefactor—played to perfection by Craig Cackowski (Drunk History, Veep, Community)—thinks the game holds promise. Rather than asking players to adopt fictional personas, they basically play themselves, making Murder Bury Win a game of dark wish fulfillment. But he also criticizes the game design for lacking a clear motive for offing the victim. “You can’t kill somebody without a motive,” he says. “That’s just sociopathic. And mean.”

Writer/director Michael Lovan doesn’t have tons of feature film experience, but the UCLA film school grad nonetheless shows an impressive command of pacing, structure, and tone. The performances are good, and the story, co-written with John Hart, has a few neat twists. That said, after a certain point in the film, there’s really only one way this can all go down. You might be left asking yourself just how far you’d be willing to go, to get your heart’s desire.

Murder Bury Win is now available on VOD.

Playing the game: scene from Murder Bury Win.

Listing image by Gravitas Ventures

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