Modern day corporate culture is certainly a horror show, and the dark South Korean slasher comedy “Office”, which premiered at Fantastic Fest on September 28, 2015 (and screened at Cannes earlier this year) is a lively lampoon of the workday stressors that can cause one to snap if pushed too hard. The film is directed by first time filmmaker Hong Won-Chan (who’s previously written films like disturbing psycho-killer thriller “The Chaser”), and it’s an accomplished debut.
It starts off chillingly, when office worker Kim Byung-guk (Bae Seong-woo) comes home and slaughters his family with a hammer (off-screen thankfully). When the police investigate his workplace the next day, the lead investigator must wade through a web of deceit: all the employees can’t imagine how Byung-guk would snap. Except for mousy intern Mi-rae (Ko A-sung), who saw him as a mentor, and notes how he was pushed around at work mercilessly by their superior.
The problem is that Byung-guk is still at large, and the employees suspect he’s stalking them inside their office building after hours, which leads to some very expertly staged jump-scares. But the film is equally concerned with cutthroat office politics, which deeply affects Mi-rae who’s ostracized by her co-workers thanks to her overly desperate to please demeanor and lack of assertiveness. Her anxiety accelerates when a new intern shows up who is already on the fast-track. The film begs the question: if one pushes Mi-rae too far, could she snap as well? It’s that conflict, as well as the ultimate fate of her disturbed co-worker that leads to a dark conclusion.
Won-Chan knows how to mine tension for both satire and brutal scares, and “Office” walks that tightrope with better precision than most. Gore is kept to a minimum, with the plot propelled more by suspense and psychological horror. That being said, there are some editing problems: the film’s non-linear moments are downright confusing, with no clear indication that a flashback has taken place. The viewer can eventually fill in the gaps, but it was jarring in several parts.
Likewise, the plot twist that occurs halfway through, also allows moments of confusion, blurring the line between grounded reality and elements of almost a supernatural nature. It feels like the director and script want to have it both ways, when a more clearcut narrative would have been stronger in the end.
But those quibbles aside, “Office” will keep you glued to your seats, and loathe stepping back into your own workplace even more than normal. It’s certainly a cautionary tale about how your work literally can kill you, without proper perspective and safe-guards put in place.