Run-of-the-mill slasher squanders potential
Ever since 1974, there have been a wealth of slasher horrors released, with varying degrees of success among hungry audiences desperate for a good scare or thrill. From Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Black Christmas to imaginative efforts like Happy Death Day or Nightmare On Elm Street, each have added their own distinct flavour to make it their own.
There are, similarly, a number of movies that have fallen into the humdrum of mediocrity, and unfortunately Netflix’s The Conference joins those ranks.
On paper, The Conference actually looks pretty good. It adds a Swedish flavour to a story clearly inspired by The Belko Experiment, and topped off with some vintage Edgar Wright editing. This film tries desperately to hold its own against the big boys, and despite some excellent cuts and a few memorable moments, struggles to make its screenplay shine.
The Conference takes place in the Swedish wilderness, with a team-building conference among a group of tight-knit employees… and Lina. The latter is the outcast of the group, vilified for taking sick leave and not being as inundated on the team bonding as the rest of the group. However, this all changes when the employees arrive at Kolarsjon’s, a retreat that sees their perceived paradisiac holiday turn into a bloody nightmare.
A killer is on the loose, someone with a big grudge over the shopping center that’s about to be built on rural land. There’s even been a petition where the majority of Kolarangen’s citizens have voted against the center being built. Despite that, it’s full steam ahead for the project. When the killer begins offing each of the employees one by one, the group are forced to try and survive this onslaught.
As far as slashers go, the premise is relatively straightforward and one could argue that this is similar to I Know What You Did Last Summer in terms of set-up and pay-off. There aren’t really that many question marks over who the killer could be, and instead of in-fighting and paranoia, the film follows a pretty humdrum pattern of cutting to stragglers getting killed off from the main group until the crazy, action-packed finale.
There are a few subplots here that are added to try and spice things up. Lina has an ongoing loyalty issue with one of her fellow employees, Amir, who tries to make amends for being flaky in her absence. There’s also project leader Jonas who may or may not be hiding something incriminating on his laptop. However, everyone else are essentially just one-note cardboard cut-outs along for the ride.
While one wouldn’t expect a wealth of characterisation for a flick like this, the fact that there’s not really a focal protagonist, despite hinting that it’s Lina, is certainly surprising. The film never quite manages to get you emotionally invested in any of these people.
Behind the camera, there’s far more to praise. Some of the editing is fantastic, with sharp cuts between two adjacent scenes done in a creative and humorous way. At one point, our killer smashes a rock over one of their victims’ head. Instead of seeing the blood spurt, we cut to red sauce being splashed on mashed potato during dinner. These moments occur frequently, and it feeds into that earlier nod toward Edgar Wright’s style in films like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz.
Unfortunately, The Conference bungles its ending and it fails to really elevate itself above a one-time mediocre watch. It’s a nice appetizer for stronger horrors to release this spooky season, but unlikely to be something you’ll return to in a hurry. That’s a shame because this one has potential, but it’s squandered.
Read More: The Conference Ending Explained
Verdict - 5.5/10