(Blumhouse Television and Hulu have partnered for a monthly horror anthology series titled Into The Dark, set to release a full holiday-themed feature the first Friday of every month. Horror anthology expert Matt Donato will be tackling the series one-by-one, stacking up the entries as they become streamable.)
Charles Hood, who’s been somewhat silent since his hilarious Night Owls, accepts Christmas damnation duty for Into The Dark’s second season. A Nasty Piece Of Work tunes into the director’s comedic frequencies, based on a corporate satire scripted by Paul Soter. While last year’s Pooka! hugged consumerism into submission, this holiday season is a challenge of professional greed. A CEO’s mansion halls are decked out in festive decor (lights, garland, etc.), as the holiday season is exploited by sinful company partying. Never as dangerous or deranged as Julian Sands’ tyrannical performance suggest, “nasty” might be an overstretch for this piece of December work.
At Falconheart Ventures, fortune favors the bold when end-of-year bonuses are canceled. Bossman Steve (Julian Sands) informs his private equity team they’re to “sacrifice as a family,” which sends hardworking Ted (Kyle Howard) into a justifiable rage. Ted beelines outside to confront Falconheart’s leader, but instead of an argument, the disgruntled employee receives an invitation to dinner. Turns out he’s in the running for a newly vacant higher-up position, along with future wolf of wall street Gavin (Dustin Milligan). The night’s festivities turn out to be a most erratic job interview, with both mens’ wives watching as Steven and wife Kiwi (Molly Hagan) dare the competing coworkers to prove how badly each wants Falconheart’s biggest available promotion.
That’s the gist, setup, and gag. In one corner, the burnt-out everyman who dedicates countless overtime hours to a company that never properly awards his efforts (cynical, jaded Ted). In the other, the equivalent of Bud Light in the boardroom but he wears a suit well and plays the game even better (Gavin). Steve’s intention is to stir the proverbial pot, as office enemies assess one another’s weaknesses aloud or listen to played-back recorded secrets. Two cogs asked to sell their souls for fuck-off salaries, propelled by Soter’s scripted desire to comment on gross classism hierarchies. I just wish the rivalry didn’t play so safe.
A Nasty Piece Of Work favors dark humor over any kind of savage gamesmanship, veering towards “dangerous” moments versus encompassing workplace corruption. Chekhov’s rifles are mounted on the living room wall, so we know firearms will be used as an intimidation tool. Although, plotting never becomes much more salacious or scandalous. Sans some theatrical ruses, a game of tongues that pits Gavin against Ted rarely boils reactions above mere chuckles. When “Worksploitation” films like Mayhem and Bloodsucking Bastards exist – both able to roast executive mistreatment *and* deliver gut-buster laughs – it’s hard to place A Nasty Piece Of Work on the same level.
Female characters end up dictating the film’s narrative in most cases, when men get too caught up in their presentations. Kiwi spends large amounts of her screen time feeling up the hotter, toned males vying for salaried glory and screeches a most maniacal laugh. Missy (Natalie Hall) prods Gavin every step of the way, as the film’s greedier arm-candy to Gavin’s already posturing imposter. Then you have Angela Sarafyan’s Tatum, Ted’s biggest champion who gets taken advantage of in the heat of her lover’s narcissism. Truly, women keep A Nasty Piece Of Work from becoming even more rigid in terms of manipulating the other gender. Well, in most cases.
My biggest issue with the mansion-set grudge match is that storytelling seems to hit a wall whenever themes glimpse suggestive boundaries. Sands’ ringmaster cycles through the motions of a bastard trustee who breaks his employees for entertainment – including harassing their wives. In a curious instance, Steve presents his member as to insinuate Missy could ensure Gavin’s “victory” via sexual gratification – only to have the harassment forgotten a scene later. Right back to Missy’s insistence they stay, barely fazed by the bedroom encounter. Favoritism of the moment versus storytelling diversions primed to boil over in unison.
I’m an easy mark for horror comedies, but A Nasty Piece Of Work is just another day at the office. For all its Christmas naughtiness and decorative cheer, horror elements barely leave a branded mark. Even worse, comedic elements are all run-of-the-mill American Psycho Lite. Those looking for a base-value commentary on corporate strangleholds will find exactly that, but Into The Dark’s continuing season takes a step backward into a realm of underserved ideas that struggle to justify feature treatment. There’s fun to be had, but with a low ceiling. “Streamable” in every inflection of the descriptor.
/Film Rating: 5.5 out of 10
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