The Conference Movie Review: It had the potential to be a classic whodunnit but ends up being a campy slasher flick
The unexpected murders fit seamlessly into the weird environment, but the clues are too overt to be brushed aside. It is the half-reveal that sinks the film much earlier than expected
The Conference (Konferensen) is based on an interesting premise. A bunch of municipal employees congregate for a team-building and celebratory conference at a lodge deep within the Swedish countryside. Not all is well in the group, with politics rife. The more morally upright members question the powers that be on the very nature of the ostensibly celebratory get-together. The small municipal office has succeeded in acquiring the necessary sanctions for a mall to be built on acres of farmland. Those in favour of the project cite the generation of employment opportunities, heightened business to the region, and so on, while those against are sceptical about the adverse environmental impact the said construction will have. Dissent arises as to the nature of the land acquisition: were the farmer and his family compensated fairly or not? The black comedy that unfolds in the initial quarter of the narrative is indeed worth a chuckle or two, with the dramatic music playing its part in setting up the caper. Between the office squabbles, we see how woefully disorganised the hotel lodge truly is. Spotty Wi-Fi (it is the woods, to be fair), irregular and inadequate meals (as the cook goes missing all of a sudden) and the general lack of co-ordination are funny to watch. Your first investigative instinct is to train a lens on the establishment, for all does not seem quite right there. These workers do really strike you as impersonators. Till the disappearances get more frequent, Patrik Eklund does a good job of the build-up. It is the follow through, with its campy ode to Friday the 13th and other slasher mainstays, that falls flat.
Director – Patrik Eklund
Cast – Katia Winter, Adam Lundgren, Eva Melander, Bahar Pars, Amed Bozan, Maria Sid, Christoffer Nordenrot
Streaming On – Netflix
The absurdity of the two intersecting storylines is one of the selling points of the film, but the hint of a reveal perhaps comes too soon. This last part circles back to the shady circumstances in which the land was acquired. In terms of characterisation (of the municipal group, in particular), the writing hits the intended mark. There are the go-getters and ambitious ones in Ingela (Maria Sid) and Jonas (Adam Lundgren) who exude positivity on all things work. Unsurprisingly, they find themselves in managerial and other positions of power; Jonas is constantly complimented by Ingela for putting the deal together. Questions and dialogue aren’t particularly encouraged as they dampen team spirit, supposedly. Then there’s naïve Kaj (Christoffer Nordenrot), who is a yes-man to Jonas, falling for all his petty scheming. Nadja (Bahar Pars) is the new employee who seeks queries for context. Lina (Katia Winter), the most honest and idealistic of the lot, is returning from a break she took to deal with the inordinate stress. The old guard of Torbjörn, Eva and Anette believe that the founding of the said mall erodes Sweden’s socialist roots and moral values. It’s an even, natural mix of employees, and the politics and simmering tensions make for good viewing.
This mostly benign retreat bolstered by team-building activities such as zip lining and rafting is pitted against a set of crazed murder sequences. While that absurd contrast does work in theory, the film loses a bit of itself in the slasher cliches. Had it decided to keep the likely identity of the killer vague, The Conference could have ended up being an above-average film. For starters, there is enough motive stemming from within the group. You’re making a possible list of suspects up in your head for the first half hour. It is at that moment a clue makes itself known, taking the film downhill. If they chose to go down the ‘let’s keep it ambiguous’ path, there was a classic whodunnit in the offing. The Conference presents its characters very realistically and banks on that characterisation, but the plot throws them all under the bus. Campy scenes reminiscent of bad slasher flicks abound, taking away all that build-up of tension and intrigue.
The eerie calm of the setting, a poorly organised municipal conference and many members with an axe to grind set the film up nicely. The unexpected murders fit seamlessly into the weird environment but the clues are too overt to be brushed aside. It is the half-reveal that sinks the film much earlier than expected. Up until that point, The Conference brimmed with potential. The question on my lips was where exactly are they going with this? But the expectation turned soon to disappointment and settled eventually on boredom.