Lafcadio Boone is a mysterious man. He’s trapped playing out the same 12 hour long Masque, over and over again, in a mansion that’s as hostile as it is stylish. Everyone is masked, of course, but only his has a bloody handprint on the front (a blessing, we are told, from the suspiciously occult Bloody Girl, who makes an unpleasant splatting noise when she walks, and what kind of respectable blessing is so macabre?). And then there is the Marquis, notable by his absence. All the other guests are being murdered, and Lafcadio must save them. One by one.
Even after you save them, though, they’ll die again the next time the day resets. You only need them for their masks, really, which grant Lafcadio interesting new powers. With them he may pick locks, see ghosts, listen to whispers. Lafcadio is ‘The Sinful Preacher’, but why? Why was he even at The Sexy Brutale in the first place? The others remember him, though, and in strange, melancholy ways: ‘You play so beautifully!’, and Lafcadio, without prompting, plays a love song Tequila Belle wrote a long, long time ago.
Like an episode of Columbo, whenever a murder is messily committed we already know who did it: one of the Butlers Brutale, the be-gasmasked house staff who each represent a card from the usual 52. They are deferential as long as they think someone’s watching, and snide, cutting, and entertaining when they don’t. Stopping a murder isn’t as easy as sneaking up behind them with a weighty candlestick, however, because everyone’s mask but Lafcadio’s is imbued with a sinister power. They paralyse the ability to do anything except swiftly exit a room, and will chase Lafcadio down until he does so. The on screen-representation of this is what I imagine a migraine would look like if it was asked on a fancy date.
While this is effective as a tool to make sure you actually do what you’re supposed to (viz. sneak around, hide in closets, spy on conversations) it’s a shame there isn’t real consequence to being caught out. You can tell if the room you’re about to enter is occupied because Lafcadio’s mask will be set spiritually aflame, so there’s no need to be circumspect about barging through doors. Even if you are spotted, all you need do is barge back out again.
Still, though, hanging back and listening is worth your while for the stories you uncover, above and beyond the murders. The solemn tristesse of Willow Blue, the inquisitive Trinity Carrington and her unfortunate husband Clay, the Vaudevillian friendship of Redd and Grey. Each murder is tailored exquisitely to its victim, and the Butler who commits it, too. For Redd and Grey you’ll see a capering pair of nines, for example, and Tequila Belle is killed by a Butler with a flair for dramatic pronouncements.
The mansion itself is themed around luck: even without The Sexy Brutale casino at its heart, there’s a card motif everywhere, and statues often hold dice. It’s at odds with the inevitability of the Groundhog Day 12-hour loop (wonderfully at odds, let’s be clear) and throughout the whole thing you can uncover snatches of wistful love affairs, and something sad to do with the Marchioness, perhaps…?
The puzzling murders themselves are entertaining, but can vary in quality. The further you go (and the more of the mansion you open up) the more running about you find yourself doing, and, as with many things in life, timing is everything. You may find yourself lurking in a cupboard for longer than a decent house guest feels they ought. At other times you’re dashing to catch up to some bastard in a top hat. One imagines that Lafcadio has a well-heeled shoe — in fact, one knows he does, because one can hear it on the floorboards.
The Sexy Brutale has a soundtrack that’s sinister as well as jaunty. It’s the sort of thing that would be playing at a party in an Agatha Christie novel, just before the Hollywood ingenue on a suspicious holiday to the area keels over dead from a poisoned gin fizz. It’s not voiced, but doesn’t suffer much for it. In fact it rather adds to the atmosphere.
Lafcadio grips his head and flails his hands; he crosses himself and stumbles. The cast are like masked mimes in a silent play, repeating the same actions night after night. The performance starts at 7pm tonight. And every night.