Tuesday 28 October 2008

Toronto After Dark 2008 - "Netherbeast Incorporated"

One of the recurring themes of this year's After Dark festival (ie. it came up in several After Dark Pub conversations) was a lack of effective trailers. A case in point would be the one for "Netherbeast Incorporated" which, as I mentioned in my initial pre-fest thoughts, didn't inspire a great deal of laughter or do a great job in selling the film. But it turns out the film is not only a smart and funny take on shows like The Office (both content and style wise), but also kinda sweet.

It opens with what is apparently pretty much a direct reshoot of the original short film "The Netherbeast Of Berm-Tech Industries, Inc.":

The two main characters in that short are replaced by Darryl Hammond as the manager and Steve Burns as the employee. Hammond plays the role pretty closely to his Clinton impersonation on Saturday Night Live and it's an effective and funny performance - though best in small stretches. I was racking my brains during the film trying to think where I had seen Steve Burns before and had to resort to an online search later at home. As it turns out, I knew him from his old appearances as the host of the kids show "Blue's Clues". I always found him quite engaging there with a friendly way about him and a good sense of comedic timing. And he's managed to keep all those qualities even as a netherbeast. The rest of the expanded cast does a fine job too - Jason Mewes is almost unrecognizable, Dave Foley plays it straight but still has some subtle timing and Amy Davidson is charming as the sole "real-lifer".

While the initial short film ends showing that the co-workers are actually vampires, the film takes that a step further to show that the manager and the entire company are also vampires. Hammond's character is losing some of his faculties and is forgetful about the fact that he and the staff actually live in the building and rarely go outside (except for a rotating schedule of evenings out that are allowed). A rather complicated back story regarding the history of Berm-Tech Industries and its staff (which includes President Garfield and Alexander Graham Bell) is told throughout the film along with some help by a few animated sequences. It's all rather silly, but it works. The complications further set in for the undead employees with two events - the arrival of a Corporate guy (played by Judd Nelson) and the hiring of the first and only actual human employee (during a period when Hammond's manager character forgets himself).

One of the keys to the film is its ability to weave in little snippets of Corporate speak into the dialogue. If you've ever been told "I'm looking for you to take some ownership here", you'll appreciate a great deal of the humour and situations the film tackles. It's pretty well-covered ground by "The Office" as well as "Office Space", but when it's done well, why argue? It's not gut-busting humour, but I rarely didn't have at least a smile on my face during most of the film (though the middle section is a bit slow). The burgeoning relationship between Burns and Dickinson is handled very nicely and is surprisingly sweet.

It looks like a DVD is being released in the next few months (early rumours are a commentary as well the original short film will be included). Though it's not an unqualified success, it sure beat all my expectations going in and I'll likely pick up the disc.

"Ending The Eternal", the opening short of the evening, had a great premise - a vampire is tired of his eternal existence, so he hires several people to kill him. He provides all the necessary elements and steps to do it, but they bumble the job and then pay the price. Neat idea, but it's done on such a shoestring budget with awful line readings from most of the actors that it didn't really come across for me very well. Apparently it did to others though, as it was enough to secure some funding for a feature film based on the lead eternal character. If they can get a deeper set of actors and a bit more polish, I'll be curious to see the result.

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