“Corporate Animals” is in theaters and VOD this Friday.
Many attempt to mix the outwardly-delicious peanut butter and chocolate tone of comedy and horror, and there are many good ones—“Shaun of the Dead” “Cabin In The Woods,” “Get Out,” the “Evil Dead” films, etc.— but it’s actually a deceptively tricky genre hybrid to get right. For all the classics, much like horror, there’s a lot of cheap, garish junk that gets churned out each year that hurts the overall quality score.
Director Patrick Brice’s “Corporate Animals” falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, resulting in a film that features a few fantastic comedic highlights unfortunately weighed down by a misfired performance from its lead actress. The result is an occasionally funny, inventive, but inconsequential, feature.
Brice (“The Overnight”) decides to skip any sort of story build-up and starts “Corporate Animals” off in the thick of its parasitic setting— a mountainous retreat where staff members from an edible cutlery company, led by their ego-driven CEO Lucy (Demi Moore), go on a team-building excursion to New Mexico. However, after an earthquake hits, the co-workers end up trapped in an underground cave with no hope of rescue.
As the days go by, their increasingly desperate survival instincts kick in, and the thought of eating each to survive starts to coalesce as a practical option. Yes, this is a comedy, albeit one that includes cannibalism, murder, and various sexual taboos. It’s all done in the sake of bad taste and Brice’s peculiar knack for shock value. Other members of the doomed edibles team include a middle-aged mom (Martha Kelly), a young intern obsessed with Britney Spears (Calum Worthy), Jess (the talented Jessica Williams) the bright young protegee of the group, and a competitive boss (Ed Helms), the highlight of this film, in an underused role.
The absurdity of the situation increases, as the power struggles of the office dynamics seep into the isolated cave. However, even at a scant 86 minutes, the gags start to feel repetitive, and the plot begins to feel as if it would work better as an ‘SNL‘-skit or, better yet, a fantasy episode of “The Office.”
“Corporate Animals” is obviously R-rated and Brice manages to take advantage of the freedoms that come with showing plenty of gore and outrageous situations. But sadly, that’s not enough to create substantial laughs or comical disgust. As mentioned, Demi Moore, unfortunately, seems to be entirely out of her comfort zone by trying to stretch her dramatic chops into comedy. It’s perhaps a bold move on paper, but Moore is totally miscast, and her ill-conceived performance is awkward and her comedic timing way off. Worse, her entire routine is a detriment to some of the better comedians surrounding her, such as a hilariously deadpan Karan Soni as Freddie, the socially-awkward nerdlinger of the group who is outmatched and outwitted by his more power hungry co-workers.
The core of “Corporate Animals” is a terrific idea. The “Lord of The Flies” nature of office politics, hierarchy and dynamics thrown into a stew of calamity and chaos, but the film, even with its inspired satirical concept of mocking team-building and touchy-feely corporate unity, doesn’t really do much with the concept. The film lives or dies based on the banter and chemistry between the cast, but Brice, who has delved into more-than-decent horror with “Creep,” has his intentions hampered by an iffy screenplay courtesy of “Four Lions” scribe Sam Bain (unfortunate, given how good that movie is). ‘Lions’ was one of the best comedy screenplays of the last decade, infused with political and satirical sting, but in this film, Bain sets his jokes on easy targets and childish gags, which hardly develops the characters and strips them of any sort of likability.
Even when the film quickly demonstrates that it’s just not going to make a meal of its hilarious concept, you still expect to have some laughs, based solely on the fact of how talented Brice is as a filmmaker. Unfortunately, “Corporate Animals” barely registers chuckles and its failure to appropriately skewer the corporate retreat and all its phony ideas of family and organizational harmony, is just a huge missed opportunity. [C-]