I remember reading Fight Club when I was in college, not long after the movie came out. I really like the book and the movie but I’ve always wished for a similar story about women. It makes sense that the novel/movie are so focused on men, they’re stories about toxic masculinity, but I’ve always wanted something similar that showed the many ways that women are dissatisfied with their lives. I don’t mean the many serious works of literature, I wanted something gory and funny. I think I may have found something close with 1997’s slasher Office Space directed by subversive feminist photographer Cindy Sherman.
If you’re not familiar with Cindy Sherman, she’s a photographer who’s been active since the seventies. Her most famous works are probably her Untitled Film Stills series. Cindy dresses herself up for much of her work and embodies different female characters. She’s been criticized for the provocative nature of some of her work, which some feminists view as unnecessarily sexual. My interpretation is that she’s trying to skewer different media portrayals of women. Office Killer is her full-length film debut.
The movie stars Carol Kane as Dorine, possibly the most put-upon woman on earth.
She’s the caretaker of her disabled mother. Their relationship is strained due to how the mother reacted to the knowledge that Dorine’s father was molesting her. Dorine works at Constant Consumer magazine where she’s the butt of jokes for her quirky style and odd mannerisms. Her job is her only life outside of home when she’s downsized and forced to work part-time from home.
She accidentally kills her boss, Gary (David Thornton) when he gets a little too handsy with her but she soon discovers that killing her coworkers is a way to make her life more bearable. She adds a butane cartridge to the asthma inhaler of Virginia (Barbara Sukowa), the editor-in-chief that can’t even remember her name even though she’s worked there for sixteen years.
As Dorine kills more and more the murders become more graphic and we find out what she’s doing with the bodies–she’s built a macabre little assemblage in her basement of dead bodies. She creates a dream office staff that’s really a family. This is reminiscent of Sherman’s own work, where she creates microcosms of the world around her.
Dorine’s spree ends with the murder of Norah (Jeanne Tripplehorn), a coworker that befriended Dorine but who was also embezzling money from the magazine. Dorine sets her house on fire and the last we see of her she has new blonde hair and is driving away with Norah’s head in a bag and a wanted ad for a job looking for a new office manager.
I was mostly interested in the cinematography of this movie since Cindy Sherman is most well-known as a photographer. Most of the set involving Dorine’s house reminded me of Sherman’s “Untitled #96.” Dorine’s house is very warm-colored and might have been fashionable around 1971. It looks like a perfect slice of suburbia but hides disturbing abuse.
There’s also a loneliness to the subject of “Untitled #96” that reminds me of Dorine.
There’s a sensibility to the movie that’s reminiscent of her still work, whether it’s the stifling montage of suburban life seen from the point of view of Gary’s wife, or office bitch Kim (Molly Ringwald) silhouetted in cool light like a noir femme-fatale.
This movie also has one of the coolest title sequences I’ve ever seen with the title and names projected in light over dark backgrounds.
What struck me about this movie is how much of this cast is women. The main leads are all women and the men aren’t seen much except as Dorine’s victims. That’s an interesting reversal for the genre where it’s usually women chased by a man. Carol Kane really brings Dorine to life in a performance that’s sinister and funny.
If Fight Club is a story about the toxic aspects of masculinity then Office Killer is about female anger that goes unexplored. When women get angry they’re stereotyped as on the rag or hysterical. Dorine has very legitimate rage that I think a lot of women could relate to. She was sexually abused and then blamed for her own abuse and then has to be the caretaker of the women that allowed the abuse to happen. She’s overlooked at work, despite being the most competent, except to be made fun of. The movie also skewers the dull conformity of corporate culture. Dorine looks different but turns out to be actually talented when given a chance, too bad the chance is sixteen years too late. Her bosses start to respect her work but Dorine is already on her killing spree by the time she’s recognized.
This movie isn’t necessarily scary but it’s gross and fun. Dorine’s spree is cathartic and there are some truly fun, gross moments, like when Dorine plays with the severed, blackened, decomposing hands of one of her coworkers. Honestly, there were some pacing issues and some parts dragged but at a little over an hour and twenty minutes long the movie doesn’t overstay its welcome. It has that kind of vintage feel that a lot of indie movies from the late 90s had, like Welcome to the Dollhouse, But I’m a Cheerleader, and Ghost World. There’s this really cheerful, quirky string music on the score that adds to this feel.
This movie feels quite overlooked and undiscussed so it’s really worth seeing since it’s a hidden gem.