Out of all the films screening at Fantastic Fest in Austin this week, the Korean slasher Office was the one I was looking forward to the most. Premiering as the midnight screening on Sunday night, I watched Office in a smaller theater that was about half full. Imagine my disappointment when Office turned out to be an overlong slog of a film that isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is.
When the film opens, we see Kim Byung-Guk (Bae Seong-woo) return home from work, only to brutally murder his entire family with a hammer. From there, we follow Lee Mi-Rae (Ko Ah-sung, The Host, Snowpiercer), an intern at the same company Kim worked at, as she navigates the workplace amongst a group of bullying coworkers. Meanwhile, the rather incompetent police force have reason to believe that Kim returned to the office after murdering his family and didn’t leave. When the bodies start piling up, that suspicion proves to be correct.
The majority of the scares in Office are jump scares, but they are actually very well-staged jump scares that justify their existence. When it delves into slasher territory, Office is surprisingly tame, and a little sexist. Whenever a man is killed, the film always cuts away right before the kill, only for the body to be found later. When a woman is killed, director Hong Won-Chan chooses to show the deaths in all their glory. That being said, Office is not a gory film. There is very little blood actually seen, even when a woman is getting stabbed 20 times in a restroom stall.
That being said, the entire film is shot very well. Hong Won-Chan has a stylized direction that is captivating. The sound design is also hypnotic, as it seems to be mostly comprised of office environment sounds. The satire isn’t as biting as it could be. Some of it lands, like the aforementioned bullying of Lee, but overall none of it really feels that satirical. This could be a difference in American and Korean culture though, so it might play better over there. The film does follow through on its almost Carrie-like climax, with Lee getting some revenge on her co-workers. It’s quite fun to watch, and will be even more fun for anyone who has had insufferable co-workers in the past.
For the most part, the narrative is linear, but there are moments where a flashback is occurring and Office doesn’t offer even a subtle hint that that is what is happening. The editing in the climax of the film also creates confusion over the events ocurring onscreen when a particular plot twist occurs. Office plays as a film grounded in reality, but seems to suggest a supernatural element in its latter half that it never fully follows through with, leaving the film to end on a rather unsatisfactory note.
Office doesn’t break any new ground in the slasher sub-genre, and at 111 minutes it’s about 20 minutes too long, but it’s competently made and entertaining enough that it merits a very moderate recommendation. It’s still one of the biggest disappointments of Fantastic Fest though.