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SYFY WIRE Interviews

Corporate Animals and the horror of white feminism

By Hanna Flint
Corporate Animals

We’ve been blessed with a string of horror comedies over the last few years, from Assassination Nation and Happy Death Day to The Visit and What We Do in the Shadows, and now we can add Corporate Animals to that list.

The film centers on a group of colleagues, employed at an eco-friendly cutlery brand, who are forced to go on a team-building weekend with their egotistical boss and end up stuck in a cave in the middle of a New Mexico desert. Cue scenes of hilarity mixed in with psychological distress, paranoia, trippy hallucinations, and even cannibalism as they struggle to stay alive and, you know, try not to eat each other.

These are some of the more obvious horror tropes that the movie incorporated, but arguably the most horrifying element is the white feminism it serves up through Demi Moore’s faux woke CEO, Lucy Vanderton.

“That’s music to our ears, because that was our intention for that character,” writer Sam Bain told SYFY WIRE FANGRRLS at Sundance London. “When I wrote the first draft of the script, none of the ethnicities of the characters was specified, but after the casting process, where we had two black actors, an Iranian-American, a Korean-American, an Indian actor — it made us ask, what does that say about the company?

“So it was the casting that informed the script and got us thinking how much we liked the idea that there's this kind of subtext, this kind of undercurrents of tension,” he said. “All those issues of white feminism and of white hypocrisy, we felt like this was a perfect situation to break that open.”

Ed Helms and Demi Moore in Corporate Animals
Both Bain and director Patrick Brice recognized the delicacy of approaching these issues, especially as two white men, so they often looked to their cast (which includes Jessica Williams, Karan Soni, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Calum Worthy, Dan Bakkedahl, Martha Kelly, Jennifer Kim, and Nasim Pedrad) for guidance.

“We had to tweak things while we were shooting, because there were some things in the original script that was too much,” Bain explained. “Like the character [Lucy] was too racist, and that didn’t seem fun, that seemed horrible. With a black comedy that deals with racial stuff you have to have a clear hand on the dial to ensure it has the right balance.”

Sharon Stone was originally cast as the CEO, but Moore ended up taking over and delivers a pretty dastardly yet hilarious performance that fans of her work will not be used to seeing. “It was a character that she was initially nervous about, and one of the first conversations we have was her telling me, ‘I'm not a comedian.’” Brice said. “But making this movie and also creating this situation where it's not just her by herself as the main source of comedy.

“We have nine other really great dramatic actors and comedians, who can be funny but also play it very grounded and serious when it needs to be.

“My job was to create an environment where [Moore] felt comfortable enough that she could try to exercise her funny bone,” the director continued. “And if it worked, great; if it didn't work, fine, we'll get together and discuss why and come up with a solution.

“It was a dream being able to work with her in that circumstance, because here we are with someone who's a legend, who doesn't have to do a small movie but wanted to challenge herself, and that was just inspiration for all of us to be around and really elevated everyone's spirits.”

Brice, who hales from California, is used to writing and directing for American audiences; he's behind the horrors Creep and Creep 2, as well as the comedy The Overnight, but Bain is an English writer who has spent years becoming one of the defining voices in British comedy. Many Brits have grown up watching his work, from children's TV series The Queen's Nose and My Parents Are Aliens to his late-night TV comedies Smack the Pony, Peep Show, and Fresh Meat, and they all have a quintessentially British sensibility when it comes to humor. So how does writing comedy for an American project differ from a UK production?

"Basically it doesn't," he explained. "You still have to ask: Does the story work, do the characters work, do the jokes work? You obviously have to change 'pavement' to 'sidewalk,' but it's more that the process is different.

"The film industry in Hollywood is a much bigger in scale than the UK, so you have to figure out different relationships and how they work and how you get films made. Fortunately, for me, because of streaming, Peep Show is very well known over there, so Patrick was very, very familiar with it, as were the other producers, and a lot of the cast knew the shows I'd worked on, which gives you a huge help, because they understand my sensibility as a comedy writer, so that part was pretty smooth."

Comedy isn't the only thing that stands out in the film; there is a seriously trippy animation scene, gruesome special effects, and even a very special moment involving Britney Spears. “Well, we had we definitely wanted a pop star, but we weren't sure who we're going to go and do," Bain said of securing Spears. "Fortunately, our producers had a contact with Britney's people, so Patrick met her and recorded with them.

“It was really amazing that she lent her time; it was just a half-an-hour session, one and done,” Brice added. “It was a beautiful thing.”

Corporate Animals will be released in the U.S. on August 9.

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