The Conference 2023 Movie Review
These people are creeps. Most of them, anyway. And none of them is the killer, because they’d rather ruin lives in indirect ways so death is a ripple effect – stabbing someone with a machete would just be too non-passive-aggressive for these dickheads. Who exactly am I talking about here? Retail developers, that’s who. They’re led by Ingela (Maria Sid), a greedy boss with a disingenuous smile, and her project manager toadie Jonas (Adam Lundgren), who’s like an eel in human form. They’ve migrated their team from the office to a van to a chunk of farmland in the middle of nowhere that’s the future location of a shopping mall, and Ingela brought her fancy gold-plated shovel for tomorrow’s big ceremonial groundbreaking. Hooray for capitalism and “progress,” right? Yeah, sure, whatever.
At this point we should be grateful for sympathetic protagonists like Lina (Katia Winter), who’s back to work after extended sick leave and smelling something fishy with this project, and if you’re already guessing that the ick-whiff reeks like eel, well, you might be on to something. She looks at the contracts and sees her signature, but doesn’t remember signing. Considering the deal screws local farmers out of their land without compensating them for it, it’s not something she’d endorse. She might have an ally or two among her coworkers – it doesn’t sit quite right with Nadja (Bahar Pars) and Amir (Amed Bozan). Dopey-dope Kaj (Christoffer Nordenrot) kowtows to the bosses a bit. Eva (Eva Melander), Anette (Cecilia Nilsson) and Torbjorn (Claes Hartelius) are neither here nor there, coming off as people who just want to get through the day and collect their paycheck.
The group convenes at a remote “holiday village” with cabins in the woods and a nearby lake, and don’t say Camp Crystal Lake, beca- well, actually, go ahead and say it, because the homage is pretty damn obvious. They engage in a variety of cornball team-building exercises like sack races and terrifying trips down a zip line, and Jonas surprises everyone with a mall-mascot costume dubbed Sooty, complete with a big ugly grinning headpiece that looks like Pinocchio if he lived on the other side of the tunnel in Coraline. So, you’re no doubt thinking, when does the killing start? By the time Sooty arrives, it already has, but it doesn’t ratchet up until the killer puts on that disturbing-ass head, which looks so much better when it’s all grimy with blood.
The Conference is what happens when a filmmaker gives equal attention to both satirical commentary and the kills. The kills! Every horror maven loves a good kill, and Eklund gives us a few satisfactorily putrescent instances of cruel, relentless slaughter. There are times when we scratch our heads at the sheer incompetence of these characters, who never seem to realize that they outnumber the killer five or six or seven to one, and, since he doesn’t use guns – what slasher ever uses guns when there are chainsaws and power drills and frying pans hither and thither? – could probably disarm and disable him with a little simple teamwork. But then you realize that these people are self-serving idiots, and their inability to work together is likely part of the whole pasquinade.
This isn’t to say the film is particularly insightful or overly hilarious, but it’s consistent in its tone and intent. Eklund’s M.O. is to establish sympathetic, unsympathetic and comic-relief characters, then get to knocking them off in creatively gory fashion. Fans of corporate culture, its impotent jargon and its exploitative practices will surely take offense, while legit human beings will find some of this rather amusing. Note, this is one of those movies that doesn’t seem to be as interesting as the theoretical sequel in which the survivor(s) try to explain what the hell happened during debriefings and legal proceedings, etc. The Conference ain’t half-bad as is, but at this point, I’d almost rather see what happens in the aftermath.