Friday, September 27, 2013

Office Killer (1997): Social satire, horror, and surrealism...not always a good mix

Office Killer (1997)
dir: Cindy Sherman

You'll have to indulge me (as if you haven't been indulging me already).  An office-based horror comedy that came recommended courtesy of Netflix's Max (the PS3 interactive recommendation engine) based in the category "Goofy."  It stars Molly Ringwald, Carol Kane, and Jeanne Tripplehorn. It was directed by a woman. The script was written by two women, and two men who were part of the New Queer Cinema movement in the early '90s.  One of those men (who is actually uncredited in the film) is Todd Haynes, writer director of Far From Heaven, I'm Not There, and the HBO remake of Mildred Pierce. He also created a strong female role with [Safe] for Julianne Moore.  Of course I'm going to watch this movie.

It isn't good.

Office Killer is set in the offices of some magazine (Constant Consumer, if you're curious) that is on the downfall.  Constant Consumer, under the rule of Virginia Wingate (who seems to be some sort of Ariana Huffington caricature), is downsizing many of its employees and reducing much of the staff from full-time hires to freelancers who have to work from home. One of the victims is the quiet office worker bee Dorine Douglas, played mousily by Carol Kane.  The responsibility for the downsizing is credited to Norah Reed (Tripplehorn), who is also close friends with the hip office worker Kim (Ringwald).

Dorine, who has gone crazy due to killing her molesty father and crippling her mother in a car accident when she was a teenager, now has to work at home with her crippled mother (Alice Drummond).  The result of this change in atmosphere is that Dorine goes a bit crazy.  Just a bit.  She accidentally kills serial harasser Gary, then proceeds to start killing everybody else in the office, and keeps their bodies in the basement.  And, for some completely unapparent-to-me reason she also kills a pair of girl scouts and steals their cookies.

And that's the whole of the plot.  The movie tries for some sort of social commentary on downsizing and toxic office politics. It suggests that downsizing is due to Norah's embezzlement from the company rather than greed from the owners/executives or a downturn in readership.

It also goes on a bit about sexual harassment, but its strange in that it almost seems like everybody doesn't mind being harassed or harassing each other, demonstrated by the rampant passing around Gary's cold through kissing.  Given that the movie completely sympathizes with Dorine (even letting her live in the end), obviously it is saying that office romances are icky.  There is also the bit about Dorine's molesty father, and how she killed him. But, it doesn't dwell too long on that side topic of incestuous molestation.

The best thing this movie has going for it is the level of surrealistic gross-out that the movie attains in Dorine's basement with her collection of dead bodies.  Dorine cuts off hands, cuts open cavities, and pulls off fingernails.  She sprays down a rotting corpse with Windex and uses packing tape to patch up his body. She uses fingers on her clocks, and a hand as a paperweight.  It's straight out of a much better horror movie, like a homespun Texas Chainsaw Massacre or a Crispin Glover indie film.

The tonality of the film feels like a lesser version of the Steve Martin vehicle Novocaine, where it doesn't quite know what it is, and ends up muddled in some lost tonality between comedy, tragedy, horror, and surreal.  It might be considered goofy, but it definitely isn't goofball.  It might be considered horror, but its not really tense or scary.  It might be considered comedy, but it isn't that funny.  It might be considered tragedy, but we are rooting for the murderess.  Recommended only for the extremely curious.  EXTREMELY CURIOUS.

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