‘Not Safe For Work’ is an Unnerving Office Invasion Thriller [The Overlook Motel]

Joe Johnston delivers balls-to-the-wall tension in this under-seen psychological thriller.

Not Safe for Work

Welcome to The Overlook Motel, a place where under-seen and unappreciated films are given their moment in the spotlight. I hope you enjoy your stay here and find the accommodations to be suitable. Now, please take a seat and make yourself comfortable, I have some misbehaving guests to ‘correct’.

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I should start by disclosing that this week’s pick isn’t a proper horror film. However, seeing as it was produced by Blumhouse, Not Safe For Work functions as a psychological thriller laced with horror overtones. It’s an intense, twisty ride that features a sadistic antagonist and plenty of atmospheric chills. And since it seems to have flown way under the radar upon release, it’s a fitting choice for The Overlook Motel. 

Tom (Max Minghella) makes the fateful decision to return to the law firm from which he has just been terminated. In doing so, he crosses paths with a hitman tying up some loose ends. When Tom captures the attention of the gunman, he finds himself trapped in the building overnight, with no means of escape. His only chance at survival is to evade capture until the following morning when his former peers return to work. 

A large piece of what makes Not Safe For Work so effective is the way director Joe Johnston (who won an Oscar for his effects work on Raiders of the Lost Ark and helmed Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) begins building tension right out of the gate. The cold open sees a disgruntled employee gunning down his former workplace and then taking his own life. From there, we see overly ambitious lead character Tom navigating an awkward, almost hostile, workplace dynamic, only to be tossed out of the frying pan and into the fire, as he finds himself stalked by a hitman with an itchy trigger finger.  

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Granted, much of the tension that unfolds exists thanks to an impressive script penned by Adam Mason and Simon Boyes. But Johnston frames the action for maximum effect. The many harrowing sequences are played quite effectively, thanks to claustrophobic camerawork, fast-paced editing, and a series of well-timed jolts that serve to unnerve in all the right ways. 

Not Safe for Work is a lot like a home invasion film set in the workplace. Johnston uses many of the same tropes that have proven effective in home-invasion-horror and applies them to this thriller. There are several pulse-pounding cat-and-mouse sequences that feel something like a deadly game of hide and seek. So, anyone that enjoys a good chase scene will find plenty to like about this 2014 thriller. 

Also elevating the intensity are solid performances from the key players. The most noteworthy of the bunch is JJ Field (Captain America: The First Avenger) as a ruthless and coldblooded gun for hire. He plays the character as completely void of any human emotion (save for anger). And the end result is pretty effective. It quickly becomes clear there’s nothing the killer won’t do to accomplish his objective and that distinction makes him come across as rather imposing. His chilling manner, lack of emotion, and dogged determination bring to mind some parallels to the unstoppable villains from the slasher pictures of the ‘70s, ‘80s, and beyond.  

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This 2014 effort was put out via Blumhouse’s distribution arm, BH Tilt. To say that the release strategy was unceremonious would be an understatement. Not Safe For Work, Bryan Bertino’s Mockingbird, and a handful of other BH Tilt titles were dropped on DVD and VOD with nearly no press or fanfare whatsoever. From there, the film has continued to fade into relative obscurity. And that’s a shame because Not Safe For Work is a competent psychological thriller that is likely to appeal to fans of home invasion horror. If you are curious to check it out, the flick is available on physical media and as a digital rental as of publication. 

Lastly, if you’re a fan of under-seen cinema and are keen to chat more, you can find me on Twitter: @FunWithHorror

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