Character studies about a group of people locked in a location are nothing new. It’s a common device that really allows you to get the most acting bang for your buck. The thing is, there aren’t a lot of them done well. The Canadian series CUBE really set the bar high but there have been few since. That is, until The Employer came knocking.
The Employer is a sharp thriller that takes full advantage of the set up. Five individuals wake up in a room with no knowledge of who took them. The mink James (David Dastmalchian), Level headed Sandra (Paige Howard), the muscle bound Mike (Matthew Willig), the bitchy and investigative Billie (Katerina Mikailenko), and manipulative elitist Keith (Michael DeLorenzo). Their only connection is that they all applied to the same company, The Carcharias Corporation run by a mysterious man known only as The Employer (Malcolm McDowell). It turns out that this is the “Final” interview, a game of last man standing where the last surviving member gets a job in the coveted company. What starts off as team work becomes a game of manipulation and murder.
What I love about this film is that all the characters are allowed to simply “Be”. They are not good or evil for the most part, they just want to survive. They’re personalities do play a part of course, but any of us would likely do the same in their shoes.
Each character is stand out. David Dastmalchian, who has had meaty turns in The Dark Knight and Sushi Girl puts in a strong and empathetic lead performance as James. Paige Howard also holds her own well as the seemingly level headed Sandra, who has her own dark agenda. Michael Delarenzo puts his time in as the sleaziest member of the group and I have to admit, his character is pretty hate able. It’s also nice that Matthew Willig isn’t playing a big dumb lug but a regular guy who just works out. So often there is the temptation to play the actor Big and Dumb and it was a pleasant surprise to find that he was just another guy, a strong choice from writer/Director Frank Merle. Last but not least is Katerina Mikailenko as Billie. She has a lot of mystery built up around her as far as what her motivations truly are which is great because her actions really never point to one way or another. This film does keep you guessing. All that and an intriguing cameo from Billy Zane keep the bar high.
Obviously, Malcolm McDowell is fantastic as always. He has such a deep understanding of indifference. The character is ruthless without him playing ruthless and that is what makes him scary. He doesn’t need to scene chew, he simply is, in the moment, your darkest angel. Satan offering you a new life at the cost of your soul.
Frank Merle has created a minor masterpiece with spot on performances, great manipulation, and good backstory. There isn’t a whole lot of time to get to know the characters deeply but every flashback counts. A great script and scene structure convey a lot of unspoken truths. I look forward to his next film because if he can do this within a small space, think of what he can do when he blows it wide open.
The film is available on VOD now. I highly recommend that you order it and check it out this weekend. You won’t be sorry and who knows, maybe you can be the next candidate for The Employer…
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