Austin Film Festival Review: Murder Bury Win (2020)

Directed by: Michael Lovan. Starring: Mikelen Walker, Erich Lane, Henry Alexander Kelly. Runtime: 1h 30 min. Released: This film premiered at the Austin Film Festival on Oct. 22, 2020.

Chris (Mikelen Walker), Adam (Erich Lane) and Barrett (Henry Alexander Kelly) are aspiring entrepreneurs trying to sell the latest indie board game hit, the titular Murder Bury Win, where the premise is to kill someone and get away with murder.

After their fundraising campaign on a site called Game Changer isn’t successful, they’re invited by a mysterious caller (Craig Cackowski) to his cabin in the middle of nowhere. He wants to publish their game, with the understanding that he is the sole owner and he will just give them cold hard cash.

A freak accident occurs here, and the trio have to use everything they’ve learned from their game to dispose of the body so they can keep their dreams of board game fame alive.

I love these kinds of films that start with innocent games that then become a little too real. Think recent hits like Game Night, Ready or Not, or even Jumanji. The charm of this film definitely comes from its screenplay (written by Michael Lovan, who also directs, with a story by credit to John Hart), as the film itself was partially funded by Kickstarter, which really helps make the film’s commentary on the struggles of indie creators feel more authentic.

There are also interesting thoughts on intellectual property, too. The really cool thing about this film are all the different varieties of indie board games the film creates, as there’s a character here called VV Stubbs who the boys really admire, who is really the Milton Bradley of indie board games. The box designs of his games are awesome – one of my favourites being a board game called Mummy Picnic – and are totally games I want to play. Learning more about this character and how he climbed his ladder to success is intriguing.

Of course, Stubbs’ game called Murder Wall is what inspired them to create Murder Bury Win, because everyone loves murder mysteries. Their game looks like it is a lot of fun, too, even though there are kinks that need to be worked out. You can feel the creativity in the board game itself and the rest of the film, though, don’t go expecting a murder mystery in the film itself. There’s an emphasis on the comedy, and the film shows its cards for most of the film so there aren’t surprises in a murder mystery sort-of way. That’s not a problem, as there are different ways Michael Lovan brings out surprises in the script.

It’s an indie gem that knows it’s board games that bring us together, and it’s also a film that knows we’ve all had day dreams of killing someone, and it leans into that premise with the wish fulfillment here. The three main characters are interesting, too, and the film’s well-acted by them. I liked their dynamics and learning which ones are a bit of a wild card, and I liked the unforeseen circumstances thrown into their attempt at trying to get of the body. I think it loses a bit of steam in the last 10 minutes with a development I didn’t fully invest in, but this is a solid comedy that’s amusing throughout and will make you want to play its game, too.

Score: 75/100

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