Finding a job these days is tough, especially one that actually pays the bills. The search could even be described as a “true horror story” for some; even if you do land an interview, often you can get beat out by a more qualified candidate. Frank Merle, the writer and director of the new horror thriller, “The Employer,” takes this idea to a whole new level: in this interview, you either get the job or die…
It’s a now classic set-up. Five strangers wake up in a locked room. Before long, they realize they have something in common: they have all recently interviewed for a position at the mysterious Carcharias Corporation, and today is supposed to be their final interview. Unbeknownst to them, The Employer (Malcolm McDowell) has a very sinister way of choosing the perfect candidate for the job. You see, at Carcharias Corporation, having a well-rounded resume is only half the battle. What’s the other half? It’s killing the competition before they kill you first. Last one standing gets the job of their dreams…
The great part about a film like “The Employer” is that it takes a familiar premise and gives it its own unique and rather intelligent spin. Yes, pitting people against each other in a locked room has created some pretty grisly horror films, but “The Employer” isn’t about the gore; it’s about the characters. Merle creates a group of very fleshed out young professionals who have every reason in the world to try to get ahead. It’s more fun to get to know the characters first before they’re brutally murdered as opposed to watching strangers get hacked up; it makes for a much more satisfying viewing experience.
But while Merle crafts characters who are undoubtedly justified in their reasons to despise each other, he also brings out strong performances by five very talented actors. The scenarios he sets up for these interviewees are amplified by their terrific performances. Everyone brings something to the table, and everyone has a secret.
James, played by David Dastmalchian, is our Everyman and is wonderfully naïve and hopeful that in this terrifying scenario maybe, just maybe, nobody has to die. It really feels like at any moment Dastmalchian could break out and become a recognizable face for frequent moviegoers, and a film like “The Employer” certainly allows him to show some great range. Opposite him is the beautiful Paige Howard who plays the kind and caring Sandra. It’s hard not to root for these two; their chemistry is strong, especially when the going gets tough.
Juxtaposed against this optimistic, seemingly level-headed pair are our other three captives: the sexy and ass-kicking Billie (Katerina Mikailenko), the bruising and massive Mike (Matthew Willig) and the loudmouth Kieth (Michael DeLorenzo). Five very different people in one nightmarish interview, “The Employer” creates a tense and unnerving experience that gets to be a real free for all with plenty of twists to keep you guessing who’s going to get the job.
Which brings us to our last and most important piece of this puzzle: The Employer himself, Malcolm McDowell. As the puppet master of this whole scheme, it’s extremely fun to see The Employer get inside of the heads of these characters and find out exactly what makes them tick. It’s always fun to see McDowell play a bad guy, but in “The Employer” he’s even more dementedly charming than usual. Every time McDowell is on the screen he steals the show, which is understandable given his ultra-talent. He embodies the mission of the Carcharias Corporation and adds a level of mystery and intrigue that we can only hope for a sequel (or two) to expand upon.
And maybe that’s the real reason this movie was so enjoyable: the fact that it asks more questions than it answers. While Merle’s intentions for making this film are unknown, “The Employer” raises a lot of questions not only about its own reality but also our own, and frequently plays with moral questions that we deal with on a daily basis. How often do we see people doing anything to get ahead of the competition, or a massive corporation treating its employees like pawns in its own sinister game? Merle has created a film that is modern, violent and full of nasty twists, “The Employer” grabs you and won’t let you go.
Lastly I’ll leave you with this, the same thing that Merle told me before I watched the movie and the thing that probably intrigued me the most: at the end, only one person walks out of that room alive…
Be sure to watch our exclusive interview with filmmaker Frank Merle. For more about Frank Merle and “The Employer,” visit the film’s official website. Be sure to check out “The Employer” on Facebook.