16 February 2013

Which film workplace would you want to work in? The Chickwich or the Best Exotic? The Yankee Pedlar or The Cabin in the Woods?

Warning: the write-up below contains spoilers both textual and pictorial for The Cabin in the Woods (major ones) and Compliance (minor ones).

Just like last year with my piece on Marriage and Other Romantic Pursuits, here’s my write-up for 2013's ‘Motifs in Cinema’ blogging project. The theme I selected this time was 'Work and the Workplace'. Andrew Kendall (from Encore’s World of Film and TV) has the details:

"Motifs in Cinema is a discourse across a collection of film blogs, assessing the way in which various thematic elements have been used in the 2012 cinematic landscape. How does a common theme vary in use from a comedy to a drama? Are filmmakers working from a similar canvas when they assess the issue of death or the dynamics of revenge? Like most things, a film begins with an idea - Motifs in Cinema assesses how the use of a common theme across various films changes when utilised by different artists."

2012 saw many a movie feature characters at play, ease, loose ends, loggerheads and odds in the workplace – as, well, most years do – so let’s assess the situation with a Workplace Suitability Employment-Off. Six films, six workplaces, three rounds, three not-entirely-serious or any way truly insightful write-ups.

Ann Dowd, thinking about her phone bill first and employee welfare second in Compliance

Round 1: Social disorder in Public SectorCompliance vs. Vanishing on 7th Street

I recently saw Compliance, a film where the action rarely leaves its central setting: the (fictional, despite the film being based on actual events) Chickwich fast food restaurant. It’s not a good day for Sandra (Ann Dowd), nor for that matter is it a good day for server Becky (Dreama Walker), or indeed any of Chickwich employees. Someone’s pranking them big time and the outcome looks very bleak indeed. Compliance is not the best film to watch if you have an appraisal coming up at work. It’s not a good film to watch if you’re about to – like, right now say– be called into your boss’s office for a “talk”. But it is a compelling and pertinent film, all told. It’s a tense watch, one that has many quiet sneak-attack moments of commonplace terror around every corner, and on the sound of every phone ring, and it’s incisive about the scarily absurd lengths people go to when told to by a “higher order”. But it’s best to maybe watch it when you have a week off. In fact, watch it at the start of your week off. Better that way.

Hayden Christensen questions his existence/career in the bottom of a glass in Vanishing on 7th Street

In comparison, localised apocalyptic horror Vanishing on 7th Street – which largely takes place in and around an isolated Detroit bar – has nothing on Compliance. Vanishing may have shadowy, life-sucking wraiths surrounding the central drink-hole setting, an unstoppable ever-encroaching darkness and a Hayden Christensen performance, but none of that is any match for Pat Healy and a pay-as-you-go phone card.

Workplace Suitability: The Chickwich5/10; the bar on 7th Street6/10. The Chickwich has a free fast-food meal with every shift and friendly co-workers (as a general rule) who like a good gossip, but an Employee of the Month award might be out of the question. The Vanishing bar does have as much free beer as you want on tap, to help drown out the shrieking wraiths and Christensen’s dialogue, but is it enough when you’re about to be sucked into a vague undying oblivion? Tough call, huh? However, Vanishing wins because at least there’s no one insisting that you to wear a cap with the word Chickwich on it. Then insisting that you, er... take it off.

 Richard Jenkins talks his employees through his Whiteboard of Terror in The Cabin in the Woods

Round 2: Corporate WrongdoingThe Cabin in the Woods vs. ATM

Paper-pushers had a hard time of it last year: in meta-horror The Cabin in the Woods and cashpoint slasher ATM white-collar workers young and old saw all manner of fear and terror directed their way. As if the financial crisis wasn’t enough of an employment downer, along comes knife-wielding maniacs who like drawing architectural plans and all the hellish beasts of folk and lore to mess up your work schedule. The office in Cabin isn’t of course your average workplace – nestled deep underground in the middle of nowhere, and with a panoply of otherworldly clients on their books and in their giant rotating filing cabinets, it’s far from the usual 9-5. I’m hazarding a guess that the pay is decent, however, even if the admin may be tricky, but I reckon being called into the Big Boss's office may mean receiving your P45 in the form of, um, eternal damnation. (The interview process here must be absolutely rife with touchy HR issues, too.)

 Josh Peck, Brian Geraghty and Alice Eve all regret not doing their banking online in ATM

Events are more grounded in ATM. Literally; a killer, for seemingly no apparent reason, has issued a fatwa of pain and suffering on three random twenty-something corporate partygoers and seals them in a cashpoint casket where they flail about like overpaid fish in a tank. Mysterious Killer Guy causes all manner of disruption to their evening before ensuring that all three of them will be late – very late – into work the next day.

Workplace Suitability: the office in the complex under the cabin in the woods6/10; that isolated ATM/random anonymous office block; 4/10. Cabin’s monstrous lair has jovial banter (well, to a point) and a cool array of monsters to check out, but long-term prospects may be slim on the ground. ATM’s office seems relatively safe – the killer never actually sets foot there – but, then again, you have to work in the next booth to Josh Peck’s suited number-crunching dullard. So, the ungodly ancient creatures from hell win.

Sara Paxton realises a bit too late that her room's been double-booked in The Innkeepers

Round 3: Hapless and Horrific Houseguests Abound The Innkeepers vs. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

If you had to choose between staying at a remote, rundown haunt with a bunch of decrepit, ghoulish figures ready to sneak up on you at a moment’s notice, or stay at the Yankee Pedlar Inn in The Innkeepers, which do you choose? I’d go with the relative peace and quiet of the Yankee Pedlar myself. At least the guests there don’t deliver treacly nuggets of homespun wisdom at the drop of a hat or have a “delightful” bumble around amid stereotypically-rendered backdrops once a day. They will scare the bejesus out of you in a cellar, bed or a bathtub – what with them being pallid no-eyed corpses who like the element of surprise – but they won’t have a script-forced life-affirming romance/revelation/realisation up in your face either. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is certainly the scarier place. You could cross paths with a bored Judi Dench on the stairs, stumbled across a four-wheeled prejudiced Maggie Smith in the lobby or try and avoid Bill Nighy’s ingratiating dawdler in the hotel courtyard. (And there’s always an awkward Penelope Wilton, a randy Ronald Pickup or a tightly-wound Tom Wilkinson ready to check in.)

Dev Patel tries to explain how he'd rather not work in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel to Penelope Wilton

As far as workplaces go, the Yankee Pedlar has: a) fluid working hours, and b) not much to actually do (plus you get to stay up late listening for eerie noises whilst eating junk food). The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has the potential for a coach load of Richard Curtis-a-like old folks (who don’t exactly resemble real old folks based on any kind of real reality) and a rather long and annoying title that you’d have to say and type a lot. Also, I think a front-desk manager job there might well mean having to push Maggie Smith to and fro a series of places whilst she has fussy and adorable conversations about the local food/heat/scenery too. I think I’d rather bathe with a spurious spectre.

Workplace Suitability: the Yankee Pedlar Inn7/10; the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel2/10. The way I see it, it’s an easy decision: at one hotel you get to lark about with Pat Healy (thankfully without a pay-as-you-go phone card) doing basically nowt; at the other you have to see comically unrealistic types enact an OAP Love Actually. A hag in a wedding gown ready to condemn my soul seems preferable, frankly. (Plus: nifty wallpaper at the Yankee Pedlar.)

Dream job: anything involving ghost hunting/imaginary monsters.
Job from hell: running around ensuring old folks never not be delightfully whimsical and anything involving corporate/cash cubicles.