Office Killer (1997)

Genres - Comedy, Thriller  |   Sub-Genres - Workplace Comedy, Crime Thriller, Psychological Thriller  |   Release Date - Dec 3, 1997 (USA - Limited)  |   Run Time - 85 min.  |   Countries - United States  |   MPAA Rating - R
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Review by Brian J. Dillard

Carol Kane has often played cutesy in her career, from Taxi to Scrooged to The Princess Bride. But in this deliciously tongue-in-cheek horror romp, photographer-turned-director Cindy Sherman guides her star into a deeply weird place where amusing tics and cartoon gore go hand-in-hand with rich psychological shadings. Kane, clad in drab officewear and thick glasses, plays put-upon worker bee Dorine like a cross between Sally Field's bespectacled schizophrenic from Sybil and her own primate-clubbing nutter from The Mafu Cage. Of course, Office Killer isn't simply a vivid portrait; it's also a queasily gripping story, conceptualized by Sherman and Elise MacAdam and co-written by director Tom Kalin, whose own Swoon displayed a similar knack for stylized violence. From her 1970s Untitled Film Stills to more recent photos riffing on the paintings of the old masters and playing with grotesque dolls and medical refuse, Sherman has leveraged B-movie archetypes into emotional insight and cultural comment, a feat she repeats here through the use of over-the-top horror tropes. Where Wes Craven's Scream ridiculed slasher flick clich├ęs in a way that appealed to hip, seen-it-all youngsters, Sherman's angle is more subversive as she seeks to uncover the serial killer lurking inside the meek, the dispirited, and the neglected amongst us. In that undertaking, she couldn't have gathered a better supporting cast; everyone from '80s survivor Molly Ringwald to almost-superstar Jeanne Tripplehorn to frequent mobster Michael Imperioli plays the material with the perfect mixture of irreverent cheek and colorful terror. Kevin Thompson's vivid production design and Sherman's gift for framing comically vile tableaux guarantee that Office Killer is never less than visually arresting. That it's also such an entertaining embrace/critique of genre trappings is a testament to the narrative skills the first-time director has brought to the fore ever since she began her career as a conceptual photographer.