In this Corporate HR video parody, Catherine returns to work after a hiatus. (Sundance 2014)
by Dean Fleischer Camp
13 Min / USA



Selected in Sundance 2014, Catherine  on the surface looks like a parody of corporate HR video made by happy cheerful office employees about “misunderstandings between employees.” 

The story is about Catherine who returns to work after a sickness and struggles to be accepted again into the life-flow of the office.  Her colleagues have weirdly blank faces, talk in monotone, repeats words like they are trying to follow some pre-coded loop from a computer program and hold eye-contact for too long like they are trying to send secret messages which cannot be said aloud. There is a weird suspense to the film, because you keep expecting some rupture of emotion or violence from these people and the longer the film goes on the more funny  (and scary)  it all becomes; at different moments I honestly thought that the film would end with an office shooting or with the reveal that all these people have been body-snatched by aliens.
The normal and mundane becomes menacing and ridiculous. The sound-design directs your attention here: there is a constant dull hum in the background and the shots are weirdly functional and plain, capturing everything whether its the pouring of water in a glass and drinking or a pizza-boy cycling away like its equally important as anything else the story. We gradually start realizing that beneath the humor the film in reality is a horror movie about how deeply alienating, neutering and dehumanizing an office space can be.

The film was made as a web series for youtube comedy week and was popular and then combined to form a short film and it got selected at Sundance!


[Further Analysis: Spoilers:

After coming back, when Catherine calls her colleague by her name and smiles at her, the camera tilts to show how weird this is when it is the most normal, authentic moment in the film. And when Catherine falls and hurts herself, the man who bandages her cut, immediately falls in love with her. But in this desert of under-reaction and non-emotion, he has no idea how to behave towards the feelings he has for her. He decides to literally jump-scare her.

During lunch-time everybody gets up and takes their lunch in a neat row but later when Catherine takes up lunch duties, she brings the lunch to the people’s table themselves. Everybody in the office is excited by this change like this is the beginning of a new world or something. She begins to replace the women who did the job before her, who begins to feel unwanted. Underlying all this is the transactional nature of all the relations you see in the film; everybody takes something from the other and that is the only way they can relate to anybody else.]