Sunday, February 24, 2013

The Cinema File #121: "Redd Inc (aka Inhuman Resources)" Review

When I'm not blogging, my day job places me in a boring office doing boring office things, the specifics of which are not really important. Its not a bad job actually; its easy as hell and most of the people I work with are very much like me, working a job that wasn't ever their dream career until they can find something better. Overall, the life of an office drone has never been for me the kind of soul crushing experience depicted in many films and television shows written by screenwriters pre-disposed to seeing a cubicle as a portal to Hell. Today's film takes the Office As House Of Horrors idea to its logical conclusion, setting a horror thriller amid the many cliches of bland middle management life, and though I couldn't really relate to its cynicism, I must say that I still enjoyed Redd Inc. quite a bit.

The story follows Thomas Reddman, a man seemingly caught dead to rights with the axe in his hand and sent to prison as the CEO hating serial killer known as the Headhunter. Of course he escapes, and sets about proving his innocence in perhaps the most counter intuitive way possible, by kidnapping a group of people connected to his case and forcing them to re-examine the evidence and find the real killer or die trying. The set up is incredibly silly, and its clear that everyone involved is well aware of how absurd everything is, but luckily, they know this well enough to embrace it and play it as straight as possible, as if there's nothing unusual about this increasingly preposterous narrative.

There are a lot of very ridiculous things that you have to accept if you are to enjoy everything Redd Inc. does so right, so much so that I'm not sure if I can recommend it even for every horror fan. It really is the horror equivalent of Office Space, not simply because of the obviously similar setting, but because the understated sense of humor and tongue-in-cheek tone allows it to hit that same satirical sweet spot. Reddman never drops his tough but fair politeness even as he's decapitating or otherwise torturing his "employees" for various infractions. When he gives each of his victims their performance reviews while still chained to their chairs and literally pulls up the World's Greatest Boss coffee mug without any comment or hint of irony, you either have to go along with the whole thing or not, there's no middle ground.

Nicholas Hope commits so thoroughly to the role of Reddman that the character instantly jumped to the top of my list of best villains for 2012. I loved how he was so obsessed with rules and order, to the point where in his delusion, he almost seemed reasonable. He's one of the few cinematic killers I can think of who presents himself in a way that you honestly think you might be able to negotiate your way out of his clutches by playing along, without losing any of his inherent menace. So much about him is just so over the top crazy, from the bad wig concealing the scars from his treatment to the stump on his arm where he replaced his severed hand with something that isn't quite a hook or a knife, but something in between akin to a Velocriraptor's claw. And yet, he's so serious and free of meta self awareness that you never doubt the character's sincerity or stop seeing him as a threat.

The gore is always effective, as is typical with master special effects artist Tom Savini, and there were several moments that even left me cringing a bit in my seat. The conceit of using notches cut into the flesh of the forehead after each act of "insubordination," four vertical and one final horizontal one, does a good job of building the tension as the victims find their situation getting more and more hopeless with each mistake. One kill involving a forced, bare handed enucleation is particularly grim, and while there are many outlandish elements of the film as a whole, everything meshes very well, so that the horror never undercuts the humor or vice versa. And fair warning, if like me you've got a thing about damage to the fingers, the removal of a splinter and the nail concealing it is more than a bit disturbing.

If I can point to one major problem I had, it is that in an attempt to make their villain more sympathetic, the film tries to have its cake and eat it too in a way that comes across as very artificial and tacked on. Because much of the mystery hinges on the audience allowing for the possibility that Reddman is innocent of the crime he was imprisoned for despite witnessing him commit several murders after the fact, the film throws in a subplot that suggests he was made homicidal by experiments performed on him in the asylum that he was committed to after his trial. This explanation seems completely superfluous to me, and I would have much rather had him simply be a homicidal maniac who just so happened to have not committed this specific homicidal act. Reddman is charismatic enough without us being spoon fed a reason to see him as a victim.

Overall, Redd Inc. surprised me with how well it pulled off such an insane idea. A lot could have gone wrong here, but enough care is taken to exploit both the most absurd and the most legitimately horrifying consequences of this premise that the film comes together as easily one of my favorite horror films of last year. Honestly, in retrospect I kind of wish we'd gotten more of the actual Headhunter case, as the idea of an Occupy Wallstreet inspired killer going after over paid CEOs is one that itself has a lot of potential, but I was more than satisfied with what we got. I would guess that this is the kind of movie a lot of people would pass up, assuming it was just more of the same schlocky garbage we've seen a million times, but I assure you, if you can get past some of the hurdles of credulity it throws up, there's enough here to justify the time and effort.

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