Directed by Cindy Sherman. Starring Carol Kane, Molly Ringwald, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Barbara Sukowa, Michael Imperioli, David Thornton, Mike Hodge, Alice Drummond. (1997, R, 80 min.)
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Jan. 9, 1998
In the modern business world, the office, subdivided into its depressing little cubicles with co-workers linked by ethernet and e-mail, has for many become a substitute for life itself. Job equals identity, and when that job is taken away, downsized, or relegated to freelance or part-time work, some folks tend to snap like frayed rubber bands. This bitterly black comedy by noted still photographer Cindy Sherman (Untitled Film Stills) takes its premise and runs with it -- a little too far -- to its grim and ghastly end. It's an uncomfortable viewing experience, from the thick, shadowy cinematography that makes it feel as though you're watching through a veil of muddy cotton to squeaky Carol Kane's histrionic, creepy performance. It's more disturbing than finding half a cockroach in a Fluffernutter sandwich. Kane plays Dorine Douglas, a copy editor at Constant Consumer magazine. She's the kind of longtime employee who so often ends up being relegated to the menial, bothersome office tasks by simple virtue of her being the only one able to do them properly. When the magazine is hit with a series of cutbacks, the excruciatingly mousy Dorine is forced to work out of the home she shares with her invalid mother. Meanwhile, a tsunami of office infighting is going on between Constant Consumer's haughty editor, Virginia, and the cocky Kim (Ringwald) and Norah (Tripplehorn). No one seems to like each other very much, and when Dorine accidentally kills a male co-worker while putting in overtime at the office one night, she stumbles headlong into that old standby of the terminally frustrated, murder as empowerment tool. Before long, Constant Consumer is desperately understaffed and Dorine, hungry for companionship and acceptance, has a basement full of flyblown temp workers, complete with duct tape to keep their rotting fingers on the keyboards. Sherman and screenwriters Elise MacAdam and Tom Kalin (Swoon) have a lot to say about office politics and the nature of the worker's place in a healthy (or unhealthy) workplace, but these wicked insights fall flat in the face of the film's ghoulish horror-show banalities. Looting past shock-fests, Office Killer feels vaguely reminiscent of everything from the superlative Michael Caine vehicle A Shock to the System to William Lustig's infamous Maniac (with Kane filling in for Joe Spinell) to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. It's Kane's performance here that really sets things apart: Rarely do you get to see a talented actor in such a grating, gruesome role. Rarely do you want to. Despite its stern moral warning against the dangers inherent in the modern workplace, Sherman's film is more a gritty, gangly nightmare than a genuine cautionary tale. It's the archetypal Dilbert gag taken to its hellish extreme.