★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
A remarkably nuanced slice of horror at work, from a 19-year-old writer/director that poses the question as to how far would you be willing to go to unearth and expose the dirty secrets at your place of employment. The movie is probably twenty minutes too long, but the plot has a solid backbone to tell a good story.
Directed by Braden Swope
Do you hate your job? Do you think your place of works has dark and evil secrets that you need to uncover? Have you ever felt compelled to be the whistleblower or hero in this kind of story? Or are you a chickenshit coward? Human Resources plays on these deep-seated tropes in the debut feature of young writer/director Braden Swope. For someone with so little life experience, he has managed to hit on some pretty universal workplace themes, and the fact that he managed to get this project financed and produced is a testament to his vision.
Sam Coleman (Hugh McCrae Jr.) is a hard-luck unemployed young man who is has a stack of job rejection letters that has his confidence completely shot. One fateful day, he is given a call from Brooke’s Hardware store, who is desperate to fill the void of Keith (Angel Hilton), a man who recently died under mysterious (and sinister) circumstances after hours in the back-stock room of the store.
“Remember! A Brooke’s day is a great day!”The Brooke’s Hardware slogan, Human Resources
Sam is thrilled to get the job, and Gene (Anthony Candell), the ebullient store manager is also thrilled to have him take the job, as Black Friday is approaching and they need all the help they can get. The other staffers Sarah (Sarah José) and Bill (Michael Kammerer) trudge through their days, beaten down by working a dull retail job in a dying hardware store. But, they are also aware of some potential shenanigans that don’t seem right about the store. They suspect they have some shady hiring and firing practices, and there are some strange customers who amble around aimlessly in the aisles. Plus, there are some strange oily substances that look… alive… that mysteriously show up in unexpected shopping aisles.
Sam is caught between his desire to keep this hard-won job, and solving the dark mysteries in the store. His curiosity gets the better of him, and he and Sarah ally and do some sleuthing, and discover some shady practices, as well as a mysterious hidden broom closet with lots of cryptic writing on the walls, and Keith’s old diary suggesting that something downright evil was afoot. Sam suspects that General Manager Brian (Tim Misuradze) is behind whatever is going on, but he lacks the courage and conviction to do what is right… until Black Friday approaches and Sam concocts a scheme.
The story is solid and well thought out. It goes right onto our roster of recommended horror in the workplace films. The build-up of Acts I and II is well-orchestrated, but it could have been edited down a bit. The story drags at points, and I think that the drudgery of the workday sometimes consumes the film as well.
The horrors that await Sam are the Macguffin that the story is built up to, but the payoff isn’t quite as scary as it could have been. It is also a bit unclear as to the general nature of why the abominations that lurk in the back were created. Was it a science experiment? A satanic ritual? A cosmic accident? It wasn’t entirely clear to me as to what these mutants were all about. Next time out, hopefully, Swope can get a bigger make-up and effects budget to experiment a bit more with his monsters.
Hugh McCrae does a good job as an empathetic protagonist lead, though at times you want to slap that worried expression off of him and shake him to get him to man up. C’mon, dude! But that’s his character, and he hits the right notes needed. He’s constantly worried about losing his job and finding himself out on the street, and that’s something that so many of us can remember early in our employment careers. We also have taken jobs that were definitively dull, such that you conjure up interesting stories about your work-life just to keep from getting bored out of your mind. Often having the pressure of divided loyalties that place him and his relationships with those he works with at odds with his curiosity and his timidity.
Gene is also a very amusing and ambiguous character, and Anthony Candell manages to walk the tightrope as to whether this man is a pawn, a mastermind, or a dupe. We’ve all had experience with a middle manager like Gene. Sarah José is used well as the jaded buddy and foil for Sam, a woman who gives him the courage to (maybe) do what is needed. It is also nice that they don’t try and force an unnecessary romantic relationship here, as many films might opt to try and do.
Swope and his team have created a fine first effort. Could it be tightened up? Certainly. Could the pacing be sped up at times? Yep. But you cared about Sam. And you were curious about Gene and Brian. The story is not entirely predictable either. I did not see the plot twists coming. And, I loved how Sam’s Black Friday plans worked out. The dialogue of the script is snappy and funny, and each of the characters was true to their own voices. Even the laconic and mostly silent Bill, when given the opportunity, had some terrific little bits of wit and sass.
Human Resources is not yet rated, but if it goes for an MPAA rating, it would be on the line of PG-13/R. It’s not particularly gory or profane. I was a little surprised that though this took place in a hardware store, they did not go full-power tool mayhem with this, with all the improvised weaponry at Sam’s disposal. Perhaps, though that was a good sign of restraint not to fall into the trap of video game carnage. (Still… what might have been…) This film was featured at Another Hole in the Head Film Festival 2021, and you still might be able to catch it virtually streaming as the Festival is still ongoing until December 15.
Review by Eric Li