Podcasting is older than most think. With the birth of digital audio playback technology in the late 1990s and early 2000s, most think of podcasts as coming up with those devices, but they really started well before that in the 1980s, as company Radio Computing Services (RCS) provided various audio tracks for a number of uses that included everything from MIDI files to brief talking tracks. The last few years, the last two during the pandemic especially, has seen an enormous growth in podcast programs in a variety of topics as folks seek out ways to connect or share with others. The lucky few (ReelBlend Podcast, ID10t with Chris Hardwick) found ways to turn their natural connections into life-changing experiences, while many more just chugged-along, happy to have an outlet to share their feelings on any of their respective topics. The dream for fame and glory is the catalyst for the central character in William Bagley’s feature-length directorial debut, supernatural horror comedy The Murder Podcast, as a stoner loser and his buddy attempt to turn a local tragedy into their financial gain. Channeling the narrative ridiculousness of Dude, Where’s My Car? (2000) and the schlockfest of the Evil Dead series, The Murder Podcast is a frequently uneven adventure which works best when it shuns the comedy and gets real.
Chad Thadwick (Andrew McDermott) and his best bud Eddie (Cooper Bucha) have been running their ramen noodle podcast for a few weeks and they’ve barely peaked 100 listens each week. Feeling like no one’s understanding their passion and his vision of fame and fortune growing further away, Chad suggests that he and Eddie drop their noodle show for true crime. What he doesn’t realize is that glory is always hard won and the killer on the loose has got centuries of anger to release.
The general concept and execution of The Murder Podcast make it a perfect addition to anyone’s midnight movie madness. It’s got dumb characters doing dumb things while a terrible fate awaits them, lurking in the corners until the end. It’s right up there with Kevin Smith’s Yoga Hosers (2016) or PG: Psycho Goreman (2020), offering a lot of dark humor to go along with the mayhem. The difference between Murder and the other aforementioned films is that the balance of tones is off, providing little grounding for the audience to care about anyone in the film. McDermott, who worked with Bagley in 2020’s short Postfontaine, is capable as the lead, exuding a certain leading man energy in the vein of Army of Darkness’s Bruce Campbell as Ashley J. Williams: brash, idiotic, and unaware of his own IQ. While this is perfect for a third film when we’ve seen Ash grow from stock boy to Deadite slayer, from the moment we’re introduced to Chad, there’s nothing evidently redeemable about him. He’s unappreciative of his podcast partner and his sister’s boyfriend (in whose home Chad rents a basement room), craves fame but refuses to do the work, and shirks any kind of responsibility. A few of these we can forgive, especially if the performance endears the audience, except McDermott plays Chad as an asshat so well that there’s rarely a moment when one might root for him.
The narrative itself also starts in a promising place with our first and second victims taken out with a bit of mystery, pulling our characters in to put them in the path of the supernatural entity causing bloody mayhem. Bagley even creates a relationship between Chad and Officer Stacheburn (Levi Burdick) that goes back to Chad’s deceased father, a man considered a crazed conspiracy nut and someone Chad idolizes. This built-in tension creates an opportunity for these two characters to engage on multiple levels ranging from butting against each other in a general format to almost nurturing (Stacheburn to Chad). It’s here, in moments like these, when the characters drop the comedic pretense that Murder really finds its footing and gets interesting. Rather than feeling like caricatures of people or cardboard cut-outs, when the characters get to engage with each other as people, Murder becomes a film you want to like and subscribe on. But it too frequently launches itself away, eschewing the human for the farcical. With little anchoring it, much of Murder is people being jerks to each other until the cost of continuing is too high.
Full disclosure: I’ve never been high in my life outside of prescription meds, but I know quite a few folks — professionals and average cinema-goers — who enjoy being stoned at the movies. The Murder Podcast may just be the kind of film you need to be totally blazed to get and, if that’s the case, then I’m not the target audience for it and we were never going to connect, no matter how badly I wanted to.
And I did want to. There’s a lot of cleverness on display from Bagley from the staging of shots to the technical aspect of the scares, even the projectile moments looked cool. Other than some of the characters, there’s little that’s half-baked about Murder, with anyone paying attention able to recognize the emotional thread running throughout the film, which it mostly succeeds in nailing. Even if I can’t recommend The Murder Podcast, it may just be the thing to entertain yourself while you’re tripping balls and eating ramen. If you do, make sure to leave a review. Chad would appreciate it.
Screening during the 52nd Nashville Film Festival.
Head to the festival’s Eventive page to purchase virtual tickets for The Murder Podcast.
Final Score: 2.5 out of 5.