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Fantasia 2022 Critique: Standout Corporate Satire in “Model Employee”

Model Employee, directed by Véronique Jadin, marks an impressive foray into the horror-comedy realm, presenting a biting critique of the soul-sucking drudgery synonymous with corporate life. What distinguishes Jadin’s piece in the sea of corporate horror films is its sharp commentary on workplace gender dynamics. Our Culture provides insights on this standout submission at the 2022 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Protagonist Inès (Jasmina Douieb) has been toiling away at EcoCleanPro for seventeen years, a company specializing in cleaning agents. Despite her legal expert title, her actual role sprawls across customer service, quality assurance, HR management, secretarial work, and even coffee-delivery – all without a single raise. On a fateful day that begins with her mentoring a new intern, Melody (Laetitia Mampaka), Inès confronts her boss, Patrick (Peter Van den Begin) for equal pay and due respect. This gutsy move results in a bizarre mishap, spiraling into a blood-stained carpet debacle and revealing Inès’s unexpectedly cutthroat side.

The genesis of ‘corporate horror’ can be traced to the 1980s with cult classics like Vampire’s Kiss (1988) and Office Killer (1997), but it has only cemented itself as a unique genre in recent decades, particularly in the wake of the financial collapse. Each year since 2012 has witnessed a new take on corporate horror, with titles ranging from Redd Inc. (2012) to Keeping Company (2021).

Aside from Bad Hair, these films typically gravitate towards male leads or diverse ensemble casts, often neglecting the dire statistical outlook for women in the corporate battlefield. Model Employee, however, flips the script from the get-go. While it skewers corporate jargon in initial scenes reminiscent of The Office, the story primarily unravels the gendered injustice faced by the two women at EcoCleanPro: Inès and Melody.

In the opening chapters, viewers witness Inès enduring her male colleagues’ distasteful quirks: Patrick’s clownish yet menacing demeanor; the vanillas-sounding but bothersome middle-managers Jean-Paul (Achille Ridolfi) and Jean-Pierre (Christophe Bourdon); and the juvenile chauvinist sales rep Nico (Alex Vizorek). As Inès’ primal instincts emerge, it’s captivating to see her rebellion against the invisible barriers imposed on her career. Hence, the film is an audacious feminist take on the corporate world that also touches upon racial and class disparities, as seen through Melody’s experiences.

The narrative expertly interweaves humor, at times leaning more into comedic farce than horror – yet remains engagingly humorous. The outrageous yet not wholly unrealistic performances magnify the absurdity of office stereotypes that are all too familiar. And for those after a dose of raw suspense, there’s an ample splash of gore as the film ventures into darker terrain. If you were enthralled by the genre-bending The Columnist (2019), Jadin’s maiden film venture is likely to strike a similar chord.

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