“Office Killer” is one of those films which has so much potential, but it just lacks a certain something that I can’t quite put my finger on. Released back in 1997, the film looks very dated and there’s something comical about seeing people using big bulky laptops and our main character experiencing issues using a computer. In fact, despite the film being set in the late 90s, the world the character inhabit feels alien as if it exists outside the constraints of time. It’s neither set in the now or 1997 but somewhere else, a foreign time landscape, which makes for a disorientating viewing experience. Regardless, the time setting is the least of the film’s problems.
“Office Killer” was the debut from director and photographer Cindy Sherman who is best known for her “Complete Untitled Film Stills,” a series of 70 black-and-white photographs of herself in many of the roles of women in performance media (especially arthouse films and popular B-movies). Sherman has managed to reinvent the male gaze and by placing herself into these movie fantasies she has blurred the lines of the cinematic world and reality. So, going into this film, you would expect “Office Killer” to have more of a punch, and be far more dark in its satire. Sadly, it lacks the darkness that Sherman so clearly wished to achieve and the punch is a feeble one.
This isn’ to say that it’s a lazy film. It’s clear to see the level of work that has gone into creating the world of “Office Killer”. However, the main issue with the film is it’s script which was penned by three writers: Todd Haynes, Tom Kalin, Elise MacAdam, and based on a story by Sherman and MacAdam. It’s a classic case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. It is an ambitious and very feminist film, but it’s neither a horror nor a comedy, despite it trying to be both. Perhaps, if Sherman has devoted her focus to tackling one of these two genres, then the film could have been a lot stronger?
“Office Killer” is one of those films which has so much potential, but it just lacks a certain something that I can’t quite put my finger on…Revisiting the film now, it seems unfair that the film was snubbed and labeled a disaster by critics back in 1997.”
What holds the film together is its central performance by Carol Kane who plays Dorine, a downtrodden woman who is the butt-of-every-joke at the office where she works. Dorine is the type of person that you just can’t warm to, she’s jittery and nervous, just floating around trying to be helpful but making more mess and getting on everyone’s nerves. The weekly magazine she works for is currently downsizing, meaning Dorine from now on will have to do part of her work at home, on a laptop computer she barely knows how to handle. It’s clear that Dorine wats to avoid being a home where she lives with her ailing mother, and she unplugs the woman’s stair lift in order to spite her.
Dorine sticks out like a sore thumb in the office. Her co-workers are the opposite of her, and consist of Norah Reed (Jeanne Trippleton), Kim Poole (Molly Ringwald, who is simply brilliant here), and Virginia Wingate (Barbara Sukowa), whose only ‘flaw’ is an asthma condition. The office world of “Office Killer” is like the school from “Mean Girls”, you’re either hot or you’re not. Sherman’s at her strongest when she’s focusing on the critiques of the role of women in the contemporary workplace. Instead of supporting each other and helping to build each other up, these women are at each other’s throats and trying to get one up on each other.
“By no means is “Office Killer” a masterpiece, but it’s not a complete disaster…We can sort of admire “Office Killer” and Sherman for its ambitious take on the horror film.”
The inevitable happens and Dorine snaps, like a female version of “Falling Down’s” William Foster (played by Michael Douglas). One night in the office while working late, Dorine’s computer breaks down. She seeks the help of a co-worker and sleazeball Gary Michaels (David Thornton), who is electrocuted while trying to fix the wires. Dorine dials 911 but hangs up when the call is answered. She places the corpse on a cart, rolls it down to her car, loads it in her trunk, and takes it home (as you do). Then, seemingly without reason, she goes into a murder spree.
Sherman offers us an insight into Dorine’s deeply troubled past, and we understand the reason for her snap. Most directors lazily shoehorn in an excuse for their ‘monster’ and a reason for the acts that they have committed but Sherman takes the time to show us that Dorine is a victim of abuse. However, the comedy elements of the film just feel badly executed (excuse, the pun) and the film feels flat and amateurish as a result. The film’s campiness is one of its strengths, but Sherman should have played on this element, and truly embrace the B-Movie vibe.
When considering the fact that Sherman was working during an era of cinema where the horror genre was dominated by her male peers (and let’s face it, the genre and the industry is still heavily dominated by men), we can sort of admire “Office Killer” and Sherman for its ambitious take on the horror film. Revisiting the film now, it seems unfair that the film was snubbed and labeled a disaster by critics back in 1997. By no means is “Office Killer” a masterpiece, but it’s not a complete disaster. It’s just a mild, somewhat bland film that is entertaining enough, and that’s okay.
Rating: 2.5 Out of 5 Stars