Fantastic Fest Review: OFFICE - Work ‘Til You’re Dead

A thrilling slasher set in a mundane environment

The motivations of movie slashers tend to range from disturbed to twisted, but for hammer-wielding, family-murdering Kim Byung-Guk, it’s as simple and relatable as the pressures of corporate life. After snapping under the pressure of an overbearing boss and peers who don’t like him much, Kim goes home and murders his wife, son and mother with a hammer. His co-workers can’t seem to believe a man as meek and mild as him could do such a thing, but it doesn’t seem like he’s quite done yet. The last place he was seen after the murders was the office, and he doesn’t seem to have left.

The story is told through the eyes of a young intern named Lee. She’s especially taken aback by Kim’s actions since he was particularly fond of her, and the two seemed to get along. Now, in addition to the workload she’s been crumbling under, she has to balance coming to terms with Kim being a “psychopath” (according to the police) along with picking up Kim’s workload. There’s an increasing uneasiness around the office, coupled with open secrets about the murderous salaryman that no one wants to come to terms with.  The company is at constant odds with the investigating officers. Corporations demand silence in certain matters, because what ends up in the papers is more important than who ends up behind bars. 

The familiar cubicles and the droll white tube-lights begin to take on a constricting, uneasy quality, as anybody who works overtime becomes a potential target. Even Lee, who formed a bond with Kim and finds herself in a similar position (she reeks of desperation and works so hard that she has no social life) seems no more or less in danger than anyone else. As the investigation continues, and as the co-workers do their own digging into what might’ve gone wrong, the film becomes a very direct indictment of corporate culture. Even the police communicate mostly in terms of numbers, promotions and vacation days, as all but one of them fall behind on the investigation at the behest of their superiors.

The film plays with perception and point of view, sometimes to a degree that feels like cheating, but it’s all in service of how maladjusted members of society like Kim and Lee are treated by the system, and how their reactions are subsequently perceived, corporately or otherwise. From the get go, it’s clear that Lee isn’t revealing as much as she knows. In fact, she’s instructed to do so by her employers, who then spend much of the movie reflecting, racked with the guilt of what they might’ve done to drive Kim over the edge, ironically unaware that they’re doing the same to Lee in the process. The threat isn’t so much Kim himself as it is the idea of Kim, although actor Bae Seong-woo has no trouble slipping seamlessly between mild-mannered and dead-eyed menacing. 

Office is a film that can be both claustrophobic and liberating all in the same instance, deconstructing workplace subtleties before blowing them up into something horrific and entertaining. It’s a scathing scrutinization of what happens to people when they’re treated like capital, in the form of a movie where everything from hole-punches to fire-hydrants become potential weapons, and the office itself becomes a menacing playground.