Mumblecore and Murder

At SXSW 2005, Mutual Appreciation sound mixer Eric Masunaga half-jokingly coined a name for a mini-movement or scene or school or what-have-you. It’s made up of filmmakers around the country who were then working independently, producing microbudgeted slices of twentysomething life, marked by a fumbling inarticulacy in their talk and an exacting clarity in their attention to interpersonal dynamics (flicks like Mutual Appreciation, Kissing on the Mouth, and The Puffy Chair).

Over the festival, a bunch of them (Joe Swanberg, Kris Williams, Bryan Poyser, Andrew Bujalski, Dia Sokol, and the brothers Duplass, among others) entertained themselves arguing over whether the spelling should be “mumblecore” or “mumblecorps.” Two years later, these filmmakers aren’t working so independently of each other, their ranks have expanded, and their work is maturing. Plus the word is out. Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir has posted an excellent and perceptive dispatch about this year’s festival and the pronounced aesthetic split between the mumblecore crowd and the grindhouse geeks, two audience and filmmaking crowds that dominate programming and attendance at SXSW.

Half in jest, he poses the question, “Would you rather see a movie about a gun-wielding hobo or a bunch of muttering, relationship-challenged 20-somethings?” Of course for so many of us in Austin, the answer is a resounding BOTH, which might be why these tendencies show up so acutely at the festival. And they’re not so separate as they might seem. Jeremy Saulnier’s funny, bloody, hipster-slaughtering Murder Party makes for a perfect narrative merger of these genres while Trigger Man, Ti West’s minimalist, slow-burn suspense shocker marries their aesthetics. Stick around for the closing credits, and the connections become more pronounced and practical. Call it incestuous or call it dependent or hum a few bars of “With a Little Help From My Friends”—all are fair—but in any case, it’s great to read an astute critic like O’Hehir calling out trends or preferences that we might otherwise take for granted.

Will the influences go wider? Let’s see what happens with Ti West’s Cabin Fever 2 (now in production), and Murder Party’s Lab of Madness crew strikes me as a great bet for any studio scouting talent to make smart and gory horror comedies. Then if New Line would just hire Bujalski to direct the grand and glorious final chapter of the Friday the 13th series he’s always been dreaming of (I am not making this up) we might really have something.

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mumblecore, SXSW, Mumblecore, Andrew O'Hehir, Murder Party, Trigger Man, Eric Masunaga, Friday the 13th

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