Another week, another disposable Netflix feature that barely registers even as you’re watching it, seemingly designed to evaporate upon release (all the better to make room for the next round of fast food). Patrik Eklund’s The Conference is a slickly made but bland horror-comedy that forgets to be funny or scary. Here, a collection of municipal workers set off for a fun-filled weekend of team-building, as well as to celebrate the groundbreaking for a new shopping mall in the small Swedish town of Kolarängen. It’s a motley assortment of sitcom types — Ingela (Maria Sid), the team leader; Jonas (Adam Lundgren), a narcissistic alpha male; Lina (Katia Winter), recently returned from medical leave and obviously disinterested in joining in any revelry; and Amir (Amed Bozan), a quiet dude who seems to have a crush on Lina. There are others, but you get the point. Upon arriving at their lodgings, it quickly becomes clear that the community isn’t particularly happy about the impending construction of the shopping center. In fact, the recreation site they’re staying at — a kind of bed & breakfast but with the bonus of a conference center — is the only place willing to put the group up for the weekend, which goes some ways toward explaining why the gang puts up with rundown rooms, wonky Wi-Fi, and cold food. It’s not long before things go awry; a mysterious figure begins stalking and killing the hotel employees, then sets their sites on the guests. Will the group pull together to defeat this malevolent force? Or will the stress of the situation reveal preexisting animosities and deeply rooted ill will amongst the gang? The answer won’t surprise you in the least.
Rendering the dog-eat-dog ethos of capitalism (and the struggle of the haves and have-nots as a literal battle of life and death) is pretty boilerplate stuff at this point, although we should give Eklund credit here for making the killer a victim of neo-liberal profiteering instead of its perpetrator. One is almost sympathetic to the person who has finally had enough and simply wants to eradicate these shepherds of encroaching free-market growth, everything else be damned. The problem is that anyone likely to be interested in this has probably also already seen Mayhem, or The Belko Experiment, or especially Chris Smith’s Severance, which The Conference cribs almost the entirety of its first act from. There are some halfhearted stabs at topicality: one of the older employees constantly complains about “today’s youth” and reminisces about the way things used to be, while Ingela represents the kind of useless middle management type who uses lots of buzzwords to mask their otherwise total inability to communicate like a normal human. But the comedy here is sub-The Office caliber, and attempts to deepen the film via the illegal shenanigans of the craven Jonas don’t add anything to the proceedings. The film is ultimately a slasher, and even at that, it barely succeeds. There’s no suspense here, not even an attempt at scares. A person wearing an oversized mascot head simply jumps out of places, stabs or bludgeons his victims, and quickly moves on. And since none of the characters are particularly interesting, it doesn’t mean much when they get killed or barely escape. It’s a whole lot of going through the motions, and while the film is certainly violent, it’s neither explicit enough to excite gorehounds nor inventive enough to get by on novelty alone. The cinematography is the standard streaming digital-murk, and the editing is predicated almost entirely around lame gags (a shot of a knife about to make impact on a human body suddenly cuts to ketchup squirting onto a plate. Get it?). Nothing to see here, but don’t worry, there will be some other content to fill the gaping maw before you’re even done reading this review.
DIRECTOR: Patrik Eklund; CAST: Katia Winter, Adam Lundgren, Amed Bozan, Maria Sid; DISTRIBUTOR: Netflix; STREAMING: October 13; RUNTIME: 1 hr. 40 min.