In the scrappy indie thriller “Murder Bury Win,” three jittery creators of a killer new boardgame — called, you guessed it — meander over to an isolated cabin deep in the Northern Californian woods.
They don’t have a clue on what will eventually happen there. Neither will anyone else watching this scrappy but bloody clever gem that is flush with East Bay talent.
After a 2020 online world premiere at San Jose’s Cinequest, “Murder Bury Win” winged its way through the festival circuits, where it earned praise, and now lands April 27 On Demand.
“Murder Bury Win” marks not only the welcome debut of writer/director/producer Michael Lovan, an up-and-coming El Cerrito-based filmmaker, but also the charming first feature performance from San Pablo’s Henry Alexander Kelly.
The Salesian High School graduate stars as the most ethical of the game’s ambitious creators, Barrett, an endearing character well-suited for the endearing Kelly.
Made three years ago and shot primarily in Redwood Valley and Ukiah as well as parts of El Cerrito and Berkeley, the flinty “Murder Bury Win” follows a path many films released during the pandemic traveled, totally bypassing theaters.
While Lovan and Kelly agree they’re bummed about not getting to experience the high from seeing an audience watch their film, they recognize the benefits of the route their film took.
“We understand well (now) that the great thing about a virtual film festival is that anyone can come,” Lovan says. Another bonus is that “you can really tailor the film festival experience to an audience that is primed to appreciate it the way you want them to appreciate it.”
Kelly was Lovan’s first and only choice to play the flustered Barrett, who gets an unenviable, squirm-inducing task thrown his way late in the game.
“I just saw a purity in him,” Lovan says of Kelly. Lovan offered him the part while on their first Skype call.
Kelly, who now lives in Los Angeles, was startled and a bit suspicious that his audition was less than traditional.
“I thought it was a scam at first,” the 28-year-old says from his family’s San Pablo home.
But once the contract was signed, it went well after that.
The tight-knit cast and tiny-by-Hollywood-standards production crew, numbering a humbling 10, hustled to get the film made efficiently with Lovan shooting multiple out-of-sequence scenes that shared the same setting and similar lighting.
“I’ve never made a film before, but I wasn’t naive enough to think that I could get away with 1,000 shots in 14 days,” he says.
That meant his cast needed to be nimble and ready to change emotions. Since the team had bonded instantly, even venturing together to Disneyland after the shoot, that happened organically.
Fostering that camaraderie came about when Lovan gathered the cast to play the Murder Bury Win board game he invented — which involves killing someone and then picking the means to dispose of the body. The cast, though, thought the rules of the game needed some help. Their criticisms wound up in the screenplay.
“We did play a test of the game with our actors in the first reading, and they were like, ‘Is there any time to fix this game before we begin shooting?’ And I was like, ‘Nope,’” Lovan says.
The decision to film mostly in Redwood Valley came about for two reasons: that the AirBnB Lovan found was an ideal location and that he would be close enough to home in case his wife, who was pregnant at the time, needed him.
Lovan possesses an obvious love for board games and, by extension, video games. But while he’s a fan, he can’t stand competition, particularly when it gets too cutthroat — a theme of which gets plumbed in “Murder Bury Win.”
“I am very not much of a competitive person,” Lovan says. “I feel icky if I play Monopoly Junior and someone is throwing down.”
Since “Murder Bury Win” was shot long ago, Lovan is now exploring ideas for his next project. It, too, will likely involve games and horror.
Kelly is exploring new ventures as well, and is continuing his voice-over work and doing improv for the Story Pirates, which takes stories written by children and then stages them.
His aspirations include creating stories and being involved with projects that highlight the people and culture of Nicaragua. His parents are first-generation Nicaraguan immigrants.
For now, he wants to land future roles in comedies. He realizes that Hollywood can be a fickle place, and while landing roles is a game unto itself, he maintains an upbeat attitude and keeps on playing along.
“I don’t mind getting a no,” he says. “Because a yes will be coming.”