Review by Sean Boelman
Midnight movie circuit enthusiasts might be familiar with the name of Serbian filmmaker Mladen Đorđević (anglicized to Djordjevic) as the mind behind The Life and Death of a Porno Gang. His newest film, Working Class Goes to Hell, is likely to be as incendiary as that cult classic, but it largely fails to live up to its tremendous potential.
The movie follows a group of factory workers who, after a factory fire that claimed the lives of several workers, decide to take things into their own hands against the owners and managers who faced no consequences, participating in a pagan ritual with unforeseen outcomes. This is an intriguing concept with a ton of potential for social commentary, but it squanders this potential with a lack of narrative momentum.
If the title alone isn’t enough to tell you, Working Class Goes to Hell is extremely angry with its anti-capitalist message. If nothing else, Đorđević deserves props for pulling absolutely no punches with his commentary. Still, there are plenty of other movies that have approached these themes more effectively, concisely, and with even more of a kick.
What Working Class Goes to Hell struggles with the most is its tone. It’s a satire, and there are clearly supposed to be some tongue-in-cheek humorous elements, but the film is never funny. It’s foreboding and bleak, and with a runtime of over two hours, it becomes downright exhausting after the initial intrigue of the premise wears off.
It certainly doesn’t help that the pacing is extraordinarily slow to the point of feeling glacial. It’s clear that the movie is building up to a crazy ending, and it certainly delivers, but even the strengths of that thirty minute sequence are not enough to justify sitting through the first hour and a half that is, quite frankly, dull.
The film’s choice to go the ensemble route is also unfortunate. Although it is understandable why Đorđević would take this route — to show how these characters represent the everyday worker — it has the unintended effect of dehumanizing them, which is particularly troubling when their actions start to become more distressing in the final act.
Đorđević does a great job of giving the movie a very grimy and rough aesthetic, and it goes a long way in making the entire affair feel unsettling and often even dread-inducing. The film’s use of sound design and score also lend themselves to an effective horror-tinged atmosphere, even when the script struggles to keep up its momentum.
Working Class Goes to Hell has a premise that should have made for a great horror satire. Unfortunately, the movie is simply unable to build enough tension to work successfully within the genre — or even keep viewers engaged. You’ll likely be thinking “I wish I were watching [insert any other anti-capitalist film here],” after the first thirty minutes until the credits roll.
Working Class Goes to Hell is screening at the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival, which runs September 7-17 in Toronto, Canada.