On the eve of a groundbreaking ceremony for a new shopping mall, a group of municipal employees takes a small retreat to celebrate their accomplishments in making the mall a reality. But something may not be quite right with the plans for the mall. Recently returned coworker Lina (Kati Winter) begins to ask questions when things stop adding up. To make matters worse, there is an uninvited guest who plans on stopping the group from attending tomorrow’s ceremony by any means necessary in The Conference (Konferensen), directed by Patrik Eklund and written by Eklund, Thomas Moldestad, and Mats Strandberg.
The opening half of this film focuses on the municipal workers and their interpersonal connections. Who likes who, who’s cranky and who’s nice, and who is all in on the new mall they are preparing to celebrate? Honestly, this is the movie’s strongest element. How the cast delivers the dysfunctional energy of the ensemble is impressive. Every awkward moment, mean-spirited retort, and occasional kind act builds the group out, while the film melds it all into the groundwork of the story, allowing it to clip along smoothly and without getting bogged down in background exposition. The Conference focuses far more on who people are, as opposed to being concerned with what people have done.
While all this is going on, The Conference lays the groundwork for the film’s bloody back half. The staff at the small retreat the group is staying at starts getting picked off one by one before the main event begins. These early kills establish the tone for all the murders that are to come. And quite frankly, they are underwhelming.
Each of the kills throughout the film’s hour and forty-minute runtime, with two crucial exceptions, fails to deliver much of anything. Whatever you usually go for from these moments in horror films, whether it’s gore, surprise, or creativity, The Conference never delivers on any of them. Even the previously mentioned pair of standouts only do so because of the emotional connections to the characters and moments that the kills are connected to. They feel better due to the story’s connection to them and not because of the execution itself.
While the coups de grace never land, the work around them offers some interesting elements that I found refreshing and interesting. The killer is kept as a human being, never slipping into the unstoppable engine of death trope that killers often do, giving the film a sense of realism. Unless he gets someone by surprise, there is a good chance he will be driven off. As the film progresses and some survivors begin to get their wits about them, the killer becomes less of a threat but always remains dangerous. This approach builds a unique energy to the films as you can feel the tide slowly shift over time.
The film also takes some extra time to craft the circumstances around why the group can’t escape or call for help. Rather than just conveniently having cell phones not work and such, The Conference makes it a point to work special conditions like the inability to call for help into the plot itself, making the scenario set up feel less lazy.
So despite a strong opening setup for the cast and some unique approaches to how events play out once the bodies start hitting the floor, The Conference ultimately fails to stick the landing in the most memorable moments of its genre. While I would say serious slasher fans who want to see something different may find enjoyment in this title, others looking for sheer polish in the execution of what the genre is best known for will probably want to pass.
The Conference is streaming now on Netflix.
Despite a strong opening setup for the cast and some unique approaches to how events play out once the bodies start hitting the floor, The Conference ultimately fails to stick the landing in the most memorable moments of its genre.