4 out of 5
Directed by: Charles Hood
Good on ya’, Into the Dark. Season 2 started with an iffy entry, but it held promise. Thereafter we got a legitimately fun one – fun an often lacking ingredient in these things – and now we get the second season Christmas entry, a Nasty Piece of Work, which might immediately rocket up to my number one spot for best entry so far.
The characters, as we’re introduced to them, are recognizable types we’ve certainly seen before – the smarmy boss, played by Julian Sands; the suck up employee, played by ever-reliable-doof-asshole-type Dustin Milligan; and the trying-but-failing employee played by Kyle Howard – but scripter Paul Soter (of Broken Lizard!) and director Charles Hood find the right pitch and tone to set us into a ridiculous satire, but a grounded one. Boss and suck-up are absolutely obnoxious, but our ne’er do well isn’t a exactly a saint. He’s human. He calls his wife for support, he tries to politely talk his way through a mistake instead of outright groveling, and then he lets his anger get the best of him in the credits lead in, smashing his boss’ golf clubs against the employee bathroom’s mirror. But even this segueway is well calculated: by interspersing this with the opening Christmas music and titles, it spares us a more direct attempt at making childish behavior “comedy,” and so we can remain sympathetic to our POV character. Soon after, when his boss invites him – and his wife (Angela Sarafyan) to a private dinner to discuss a new opportunity, we’re as skeptical as he is, but equally intrigued to understand what’s what.
Of course, the suck-up is there as well, and of course, while the dinner is about said new opportunity, it’s not just a discussion: it’s a bickering, rich, husband and wife trying to pit these employees and their wives against one another, going to wonderfully dark extremes to do so. Dark extremes meaning blood spilled, wouldn’t ya know.
A Nasty Piece of Work escalates at an ideal pace – there are no forced instances of keeping all of these characters where they are; rather, they decide to see the evening through due to in context decisions. And the husband vs. wife instances are equally well handled, not just lazily devolving into shouting matches. The movie delights in flipping back and forth between allowing us to feel like we know what’s going on and then not having any idea what to expect. And because of how excitingly packed it is throughout, and how much fun it is, it seems odd that the flick decides to tease one further wrinkle. This pops up early on, which is a good enough setup for its eventual reveal, but then it’s revisited in a couple of wasteful passages later on that seem just like a producer supposing that the audience won’t remember this detail unless it’s hacked into the script multiple times. It does lead to a pretty riotous final moment, but again, it’s just a shame that it was played out so obviously. The coda of the flick has a similar sort of obviousness to it. I appreciate the sense of closure, but it’s the kind of punchline that’s clear as soon as someone starts telling the joke.
But: every Into the Dark thus far has criticisms that crop up while you’re watching it, almost always relegating the movie to a B-flick, even if I’ve considered several pretty dang good B-flicks. Nasty Piece of Work isn’t a B-flick. It’s ‘errors’ are pretty common ones in movies, and they were far from preventing me from having a great time throughout.