If artist Cindy Sherman never directed a feature, she would, nonetheless, always be linked to cinema via Untitled Film Stills, her legendary series of photographs depicting female roles derived from movies, all portrayed by Sherman herself. But, with Office Killer, Sherman has directed a feature and, while her gallery and museum credentials remain intact, her expertise as a movie director-even a novice one-would seem to be in question.

Office Killer toplines Carol Kane as Dorine Douglas, a timid copy editor at Constant Consumer, a magazine currently in a downsizing spiral. One night, Dorine accidentally electrocutes a male co-worker, triggering her own psychological downward spiral. Several more employees are killed, with Dorine covering her tracks via fake e-mails from the victims. Eventually, Dorine branches out from office homicide, murdering a couple of innocent children who happen to ring her doorbell.

Dorine's meekness makes her an unlikely homicide suspect, especially since Norah (Jeanne Tripplehorn), an ambitious office manipulator, befriends her. But wily editorial assistant Kim (Molly Ringwald) sees through Dorine's mousy manner and connects her to the disappearance of her employer lover. Office Killer takes a few satiric jabs at workplace politics, before moving on to more gruesome fare.

Sherman has reportedly cited Dario Argento as a filmmaking influence and there are similarities to that Italian genre director's work in Office Killer, both in the film's occasionally garish look and its surrealistic tone. There are also echoes of Stephen King: The seemingly ineffectual Dorine is not unlike the title character in Carrie, only older and more heartless.

The gifted Kane, no stranger to playing kooks and misfits, has her best moments during Office Killer's first couple of reels, establishing the drab frustration of Dorine's life. Working at Constant Consumer, under a boss from hell (played by Fassbinder veteran Barbara Sukowa, doing what appears to be a Marlene Dietrich impersonation), and looking after an invalid mother (Alice Drummond in a performance that weirdly recalls Katharine Hepburn's in Suddenly, Last Summer) is no picnic. But once Dorine is forced to work at home, she embarks on a killing spree, and we lose all sympathy for this previously put-upon lead character. 'You and Daddy can just go dance in hell,' Dorine shrieks at her mother, but her rage is more pathetic than horrific.

Visually, Office Killer is something of a disappointment, given Sherman's remarkable eye for framing in her still photographs. The film has a dull, lifeless look which the occasional askew shot does little to dispel. Only brief flashbacks, showing Dorine's younger life with her mother and abusive father (Eric Bogosian), and a distorted rearview-mirror shot of a car in a garage exhibit much pictorial, if extravagant, style. Meanwhile, Evan Lurie's string-dominated score adds a welcome, eerie flavor.

Despite running only 81 minutes, Sherman's debut feels distended, perhaps because it flutters around from black comedy to Grand Guignol to character study, rarely touching down on any of the above. Office Killer is an unexceptional curiosity which Sherman completists may want to investigate, even if it doesn't augur a feature career for this talented, influential artist.

--Ed Kelleher