Human Resources is an apt title for the debut feature from director Braden Swope (Stu vs Drew, The World Within Vincent) and his co-writers Evan Swope (Joe, Stu vs Drew) and Chris Kelly. Not only is it a part of Brooke’s Hardware’s administration, but it’s also a reflection of how their employees are viewed, as something to be exploited and discarded. Something the film’s prologue makes quite clear.
The company’s owner Brian (Tim Masurdze, The Black Emperor of Broadway, Murder on the Cape) desperately needs a new employee in time for Black Friday. So he has Gene (Anthony Candell, Lost and Found, A Good Plot), the store manager and human resources person, hire Sam (Hugh McCrae Jr., Melchizedek’s Men, Rico San Marco) despite his lack of any experience or qualifications. “It’s better that way, he’ll have no expectations”.
Then again he might not need any qualifications, because as he soon learns from his co-worker Sarah (Sarah José, Operation Varsity Blues, Runaway) the store is dead except for Black Friday.
The first half hour of Human Resources sets all of this up, but it doesn’t make it very interesting. Sam himself is a rather bland and one-note character. Swope spends way too much time on shots of him timidly creeping around the store or looking around nervously. It feels like the filmmakers are trying to portray him as the kind of cowardly hero Don Knotts played in films like The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, or Scooby Doo’s Shaggy, but it doesn’t really work. The film’s pace could have been greatly improved and the viewer would still get the point if several of those scenes were trimmed.
Despite a couple of odd occurrences and Sarah’s comment about the store creeping her out, it’s not until Sam finds the notes left by the unfortunate employee that we saw in the prologue that the film gets interesting. Once our two leads start investigating his disappearance they find themselves drawn into a rabbit hole whose other end is at the other side of the padlocked door at the back of the building.
Since we don’t get to find out what is back there until the last few minutes of the film, Human Resources needs another threat to make it work. Brian is obviously in on whatever is going on, but he’s not on screen a lot leaving a void where an antagonist should be. That, combined with the aforementioned pacing issues, keeps the film from taking off to the degree it should have.
More interesting is the question of what side Gene is on. Is he really such a nice guy, or the kind of professional phony so many managers and HR people are? The way he plays up what a great place Brooke’s is to work and what a bright future Sam could have there will be familiar to anyone who has ever worked some shitty low-paying job where motivational speeches replaced a decent paycheck as means of retaining employees.
For a nineteen-year-old directing his first feature Braden Swope gets a lot right and delivers some atmospheric and enjoyable scenes on an obviously limited budget. Scriptwise he and his co-writers also pull some nice misdirection and plot twists even if the ultimate reveal, or the post-credits scene, isn’t overly surprising,
What really holds the film back is the pacing and editing. There are just too many points where scenes are allowed to drag on too long or shouldn’t have been there at all. With a better tempo and a threat that made an earlier entrance, Human Resources could have been on a level with another seasonal retail-based horror comedy, Black Friday. Instead, it’s a promising first feature that can’t quite rise above average.
DeskPop Entertainment will release Human Resources to VOD and Digital platforms on January 10th.