[review by JA Kerswell]
|The killer's mask in THE CONFERENCE is a pleasing throwback to the 80s slashers the film is partly parodying.|
THE CONFERENCE is a new Netflix original from Sweden. With distinct shades of the superior British survival slasher SEVERANCE (2006), it pits office workers on a teambuilding exercise against a masked killer at a remote retreat. Combining bone-dry Scandinavian humour with the occasional slapstick, mileage may vary with audiences - but many of us can universally relate to the microaggressions and tedium of office politics. Surprisingly gory, it is also refreshing to see a wide range of ages battling for their lives - even if it just doesn’t quite hit the sweet spot.
A small group of municipal workers head to a countryside retreat to put the finishing touches to plans for a controversial new shopping mall. All of office life is represented here: the ambitious sociopath Jonas (Adam Lundgren); the forced managerial joviality of Ingela (Maria Sid); the terminal suck-up Kaj (Christoffer Nordenrot); the weary worker with an eye on retirement Tor (Claes Hartelius); the environmentally minded Anette (Cecilia Nilsson), amongst other white collar stereotypes. Also with the group is Eva (Eva Melander), who has just returned to work after a bout of illness through stress. She becomes increasingly worried that the project - which has had widespread opposition locally - is not feasible and becomes suspicious that her signature to approve the plans has been forged. Some members of the group are increasingly distressed to discover that locals have not been compensated as promised - and this has triggered the suicide of a nearby farmer. It leads to an office clique trying to uncover the truth. Shockwaves are also still being felt by the departure of a colleague who attacked managers and has since been fired.
|THE CONFERENCE has the novelty that it is a multigenerational slasher.|
In an attempt to paper over the cracks, management has also organised teambuilding exercises to try and unite the group in the woods surrounding the retreat. Meanwhile, someone else has arrived at camp and is rather more intent on team-destroying …
The humour in THE CONFERENCE may land better in its native Sweden. It certainly isn’t laugh-out-loud funny - at least not for me. Although there is fun to be had with the lampooning of the stereotypes and the fact that office politics are still raging until the end of the movie - even though the group have a much more deadly foe to fight. It also cleverly finds ways to utilise skills taught in the teambuilding exercises in real-world predicaments - a possible first! However, it is a double-edged sword as the players - whilst portraying these stereotypes - are resolutely one note and seem like characters rather than real, relatable people.
The film also has something of a schizophrenic approach to its killer - who finds and co-opts the cheerful mask of the proposed mall’s mascot. On one hand, they are unrelentingly brutal hunting down both the guests and staff at the retreat. The gore is impressive and in some instances wince-inducing - especially in a scene where one character tries to sow back a near scalping. In another, a victim is offed with an outboard motor in a jacuzzi in a scene that would have got it banned in the UK back in the early 1980s. However, the killer - although merciless - suffers so many pratfalls and near misses it almost enters the realms of a Looney Tunes cartoon. The motive for the mayhem is not played for laughs, but the execution is. It doesn’t quite gel. Perhaps because the source novel this is based on wasn't a comedy. I get that horror and comedy are a tricky combination, but other more successful examples - like the SCREAM series - tend to play the horror scenes straight outside of the more humourous and satirical elements. The approach here tends to blunt THE CONFERENCE as it is not particularly funny and the impact is reduced in many of the suspense sequences by adding comedic touches.
|Patrik Eklund's film doesn't shy away from the gore that helped make 80s slashers so popular.|
Still, it is refreshing to see it’s not just teenagers who can battle a mad killer at a campground - and there are still plenty of fun cat-and-mouse scenes. The mostly middle-aged to near retirement-aged cast do a valiant job trying to stay alive. Well acted, the film is also beautifully shot in a location purposefully reminiscent of the log cabins in FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) - plus the requisite Swedish lake. As mentioned, the film does owe a debt to fun British slasher SEVERANCE - although the motives of the killers are very different.
THE CONFERENCE is based on the well-reviewed novel of the same name by Swedish author Mats Strandberg (although his book lacked the comedic elements found here). It is, obviously, great to see the streaming giants putting money into handsomely budgeted slasher movies of late. Whilst it has its faults, the film is still fun - especially the action-packed second half. However, it is still something of a near miss. As mentioned, combining horror and comedy is a tricky recipe - and THE CONFERENCE is just missing a pinch of something.
female: 4 / male: 7
1) Male stabbed in the back
2) Male stabbed through with a machete
3) Male hangs himself (flashback)
4) Female beaten to death with a frying pan
5) Female killed with a mallet
6) Male killed with an outboard motor
7) Female hung from post
8) Female stabbed in the head with a sickle and drowns
9) Male impaled on spikes
10) Male decapitated with spade
11) Male scalped
Thank you for reading! And, if you've enjoyed this review, please consider a donation to help keep Hysteria Lives! alive! Donate now with Paypal.