On paper, mashing up a workplace comedy with a horror movie seems like a no-brainer. After all, humor is often an inherent element of good horror, and scary flicks that crank up the absurdity and comedy have done well since Shaun of the Dead reanimated the horror-comedy niche more than a decade ago.
But it turns out balancing the most familiar and rewarding tropes of those two genres is harder than it looks — as the first 30 or so minutes of the relatively low-budget Bloodsucking Bastards amply illustrates. It can be done, however, and those that stick around will be rewarded, at least to some degree.
Evan (Fran Kranz from The Cabin in the Woods) is your typical, hopeless middle-management protagonist, stuck in a shitty job but still doing his best while his friends slack off, his girlfriend and co-worker Amanda (The Social Network's Emma Fitzpatrick) seethes over a slight, and his clueless boss dangles a big promotion in his face, only to give the position to a new hatchet man instead.
When the slick 'n' sharky new executive Max (Pedro Pascal from Game of Thrones) arrives on the scene, others begin disappearing from it — and some even come back. After stumbling upon the corpse of a co-worker only to have it vanish, Evan begins to put the pieces together, and ultimately comes to the conclusion that Max's plan to turn the company around is even more aggressive than he could've imagined, to the point of re-staffing with the perfect, productive, undead employees.
The movie's first quarter is almost painfully monotonous. Before the body count begins, too much time is spent establishing the soul-crushing office environment; it's almost too established, in fact, with muted colors and one-dimensional characters washing things out, and the first dozen jokes falling flat. Even Kranz, a historically interesting character actor turned leading man, comes off as overly banal. The setup is rote, formulaic and all too dependent on people and situations we've seen a million times since Office Space.
Something strange happens, however, after the first couple of kills: The movie begins to get markedly better, almost as if everything about the production, from the camera work and pacing to the characters and dialogue, is energized by the violence. It's difficult to explain, but quite conspicuous — even the acting improves. By the time Evan, his best friend Tim (Joey Kern) and security guard Frank (Marshall Givens) attempt to rescue Amanda from Max's clutches, it's too late to salvage a great movie, but the quips, action and gore that build up to and sustain through the movie's predictable but satisfying climax are respectably above average. Or maybe it just seems so after the film's first third, but the effect is the same: Bloodsucking Bastards goes out on a high enough note to make it worth a genre fan's while.
3 out of 5 stars
Not Rated. Directed by Brian James O'Connell.
Starring Fran Kranz, Emma Fitzpatrick, Pedro Pascal, Joey Kern.
Opens Friday, Sept. 4.