GovInsider Halloween Special: 3 lessons from Swedish horror film “The Conference”

By Yogesh Hirdaramani

Unexpected Swedish horror hit satirises public sector team building exercises and reveals key pitfalls for public sector employees to avoid.

Municipal employees face down public sector woes and a serial killer in The Conference. Image: Netflix

This Halloween’s unexpected hit is The Conference, a Swedish horror film that’s dominated the top non-English language film list on Netflix this month. 


The surprise twist to this otherwise bog-standard slasher flick is the spotlight it shines on a dysfunctional group of municipal workers. While on a team-building retreat, the motley crew of public sector officials have to resolve their differences while evading a masked killer.


But what does this horror-comedy have to teach us about the public sector today? Spoilers ahead.

1. Citizen welfare takes priority over flashy projects


The movie’s central conflict spins on the announcement of a new shopping mall in the town of Kolärangen. While the municipal team’s project leads claim that the mall will bring in economic opportunities to the sleepy town, all is not what it seems.


Throughout the film, it is apparent that despite the supposed benefits of the mall, citizens’ perspectives and feedback have gone ignored. 


Radio broadcasts and newspapers clue the viewer in to the fact that the majority of the town vocally opposed the mall. Meanwhile, lead character Lina is shocked to discover that the farmers whose land had been repossessed were not compensated.

The slasher in The Conference (2023) comes to resemble the feelings of frustration and exclusion felt by the townsfolk. Image: Netflix

So when a hammer-wielding slasher wearing an oversized mascot’s head starts picking off department staff one by one, it becomes clear that the disgruntled townsfolk are not going down without a fight. 


When introducing new policies and plans, it is critical for agencies to work closely with all affected stakeholders. Countries have set up citizen workgroups and community engagement sessions to tackle topics such as recycling, climate change, and artificial intelligence.

2. Tap on all assets – even the unlikely

As the municipal employees band together to make it out of the horrorshow they’ve wandered into, help comes from unexpected sources and alliances.


A raft made out of plastic bottles during a team building exercise returns as a getaway vehicle while on the run from the murderous mascot; a stove lighter turns the tide; and a golden shovel meant for the mall’s groundbreaking lands a critical blow in a climactic moment.


Though at first helpless, the team manages to think on their feet and use the unexpected to stay alive and get help.


Likewise, it’s critical to take stock of the assets your team has access to, and leverage them to the best of your abilities in creative ways. In Singapore, the upcoming Jurong Lake District taps on assets like heritage, greenery, and the arts to reimagine business districts.

3. Teamwork makes the dream work

But there is no greater asset than teammates you can count on.


Throughout the movie, characters who act in self-interest end up meeting grisly deaths, while those who band together and protect each other end up surviving. 


One employee who plans to use the upcoming mall to land himself a cushy job in the private sector ends up meeting a particularly horrific fate as a direct result of his own selfishness. In contrast, another character sacrifices himself so that Lina can live and call for help, ensuring the safety of the remaining team.


Though the team struggled with the movie’s early team building exercises, nothing brought them together like fighting a slasher.