In North America, any employee working in sales fears one day a year, Black Friday. We’ve all seen the dark side of consumerism in viral videos, where hordes of shoppers converge outside of massive stores, still full from their Thanksgiving dinner, but hungry for a bargain. Writer/director Stéphane Moukarzel centers his narrative on Amélie, a worker in one of those gigantic stores who is haunted by a tragic event that took place on this infamous day of sales. An emotion-packed character study, Black Friday will have you examining your own obsession with consumer culture and thinking about the part it plays in your life.
Inspired by the story of Jdimytai Damour, a Wal-Mart employee trampled to death on Black Friday, the absurdity of this tragic event really struck a chord with Moukarzel and co-writer Philippe Mayrand. Taking the impact of this tragedy and turning it into their own narrative, Mayrand used his own experiences of working for Costco to inject an essential layer of authenticity into their story.
This is not just the story of a sales employee who has a Black Friday shift, Moukarzel goes much deeper and chooses a humane, rather than cynical, approach to his social commentary. The audience experiences the film through Amélie, who offers an outsider’s perspective on the madness of the sales. Whether outside where the shoppers in the parking lot behave like animals, or inside where the store manager delivers a motivational speech that feels like something a cult leader would serve up, she sees how ridiculous it all is.
Laced with subtlety and humour, Moukarzel uses every single tool he has to emphasize the high-pressure situation and Amélie’s fragile emotional state. Visually immersive, the camera constantly moves, following her and allowing us to experience the claustrophobia, isolation and overwhelming nature of her situation.
The location in which this story unfolds, feels like a sterile jungle of lifeless aisles where employees perform mindless routines all in sync with one another. It’s hard to watch certain shots in Black Friday and not draw comparison to Romero’s seminal Zombie classic Dawn of the Dead – a film that also provided an overt criticism of consumerism. Jumping back and forth between two timelines, brings a deeper emotional climax to Moukarzel’s short and adds an extra layer of tension as the film concludes. While the score, in its simplicity, perfectly matches the bleak tone of the film.
Though I’m more of a Cyber Monday kind of person, it feels rather fitting for Black Friday to have its online debut today. If you are heading out to those sales, remember to stay safe out there!
Moukarzel is now working on a feature length project and will be at an artist residency for the first half of next year.