Hulu’s collaboration with Blumhouse is on its face a horror series delivering a new feature-length episode each month, but while the first two entries in Into the Dark‘s second season (the solid Uncanny Annie and the uneven Pilgrim) embraced the terror the third has gone a decidedly different route. A Nasty Piece of Work is pure comedy and pairs a dollop of bloody violence with a sharp script, big laughs, and an always welcome critique of class warfare and corporate bigwigs.
Ted (Kyle Howard) is a good guy, a hard worker, and constantly on the move in his corporate rat race. His efforts to impress the big boss, Steven Essex (a deliriously fun and aloof Julian Sands), frequently go unrewarded, but just as news arrives that there will be no Christmas bonus this year a second bombshell drops — Essex has invited Ted and his wife Tatum (Angela Sarafyan) to an exclusive dinner party at his home. Turns out Ted’s workplace nemesis Gavin (Dustin Milligan) and his wife Missy (Natalie Hall) were also invited, and with Essex’s own antagonistic spouse Kiwi (Molly Hagan) along for the ride the true purpose of the evening comes to light.
Essex wants the two men to prove their worth, and the winner — the survivor — will land a hefty promotion.
2019 has already gifted moviegoers with a pair of brilliant class warfare comedies (Parasite, Ready or Not) and another good one (Knives Out), but while A Nasty Piece of Work can’t compete with those films when it comes to budget and weight it delivers just fine when it comes to the laughs. Director Charles Hood and writer Paul Soter (of Broken Lizards infamy) put the pieces in play and then unleash a smart and wonderfully mean-spirited character piece about ambition, success, and our unfailing ability as a species to prefer looking down on others. Blood is spilled, and not everyone survives the night, but while grim at times the dark hits here are aimed squarely at your funny bone.
Soter’s script moves the story from mere office competition to more bloodthirsty and bonkers shenanigans, and the journey is filled with twists, revelations, and couples in serious need of counseling. Tatum has supported Ted through it all, but to what end? Gavin and Missy know they’re assholes and are A-okay with it as long as the outcome means they’re on top. And Essex and Kiwi? The couple clearly haven’t felt love for each other in decades, if ever, and their absolute disgust and distaste for each other is both its own commentary and fodder for some of the film’s most entertaining banter. Sands and Hagan spit their angry and vindictive dialogue with acid-tinged smiles, and they’re having the kind of fun that most of us can only dream of. Their lust for success in the form of position, power, and things overshadows a desire for true happiness, and Gavin and Missy seem destined for the same path. It’s not that they dislike joy, it’s that their brand of joy involves the debasement, humiliation, and defeat of others — so it’s only fitting that their own descents here leave viewers extremely entertained.
It’s far from a flashy film, but while that’s been an issue through most of Into the Dark‘s run due as much to Blumhouse’s tight purse strings as it is to its TV movie feel, it works here as the story stays focused on the characters. There’s action, violence, and a world-opening ending, but it’s ultimately a dialogue heavy story about the evils of climbing corporate ladders at the risk of falling off into a capitalist society. The critiques are straightforward and familiar to anyone who lives in the Western world, and Soter and Hood keep the message lively with verbal jabs, hooks, and knock-outs. The visuals can’t quite compete as the flat TV feel remains throughout, but it still succeeds at delivering a bright and festive setting for the corporate carnage.
Can a good guy succeed in a world rigged against the kind and compassionate? The real world says no and fictional ones tend to agree, but sometimes an underdog emerges. A Nasty Piece of Work is that underdog delivering a rollicking good time and standing out amid a heavily mixed bag of a series.