Creep director Patrick Brice knows how to hit that mark where awkward laughs turn to real fear (and back again), and writer Sam Bain has explored a world of gut-wrenchingly awkward interactions from the domestic (Peep Show) to the horrifying (Four Lions).
However, one of the most surprising things about workplace satire Corporate Animals is how straightforward it is. To call it blunt would be to do a disservice to a lot of the jokes and to the performances, but it’s bitter, a bit scattershot and pretty angry, a hatchet rather than a hammer.
Demi Moore is having a ball as Lucy, the monstrous CEO of a company that makes environmentally friendly edible cutlery. She’s taken her unhappy employees on a team-building retreat but when her decision to force their guide (Ed Helms, merrily exploring a strange blend of zen bro and alpha douche) to take the gang through the expert level of a New Mexico cave system goes drastically wrong, the team building becomes more of a deconstruction. To paraphrase Freddie’s (Karan Soni) survival pitch, they’re not saying they should eat the dead guy. They’re saying they could eat the dead guy.
Once it’s clear that there’s no way out the plot settles into a predictable groove and it’s up to the screenplay’s brutal barbs and the cast to keep things interesting. To go into much detail about how they do so would be to rob Corporate Animals of its strongest asset: if the plotting is familiar and the violence is surprisingly restrained, what comes out of these extremely disaffected, crushed employees’ mouths is frequently unexpected, biting and hilarious.
Demi Moore chews the scenery with great relish but Jessica Williams and Soni are just as impressive, working hard to make their leads relatable while fully engaging with the grosser, weirder moments. Nasim Pedrad, Isiah Whitlock Jr, Dan Bakkedahl, Jennifer Kim and Martha Kelly each get their time to shine, but Bodied’s Calum Worthy just about steals the whole thing as hallucinating, increasingly gangrenous intern Aidan.
And, for the most part, Brice and Bain have a lot of sympathy for these worker bees who’ve ended up at death’s door because of the hubris of one selfish individual, which means that there is a heart lurking somewhere in Corporate Animals even if it’s not always easy to see. We can’t help but wish that the whole thing was a little sharper and a little more surprising but there are caustic gross-out laughs to be had.
Corporate Animals was seen and reviewed at Sundance London.