The Belko Experiment, 2017.
Directed by Greg McLean.
Starring John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley, Michael Rooker, Melonie Diaz, Sean Gunn, Owain Yeoman, Brent Sexton, Josh Bremer, David Dastmalchian, David Del Rio, Rusty Schwimmer, Gail Bean, James Earl, and Gregg Henry.
In a twisted social experiment, 80 Americans are locked in their high-rise corporate office in Bogotá, Colombia and ordered by an unknown voice coming from the company’s intercom system to participate in a deadly game of kill or be killed.
It’s as simple as this: if the above logline for The Belko Experiment tickles your fancy, it’s worth checking out. Written by James Gunn (while most known for directing Guardians of the Galaxy he has also proven his expertise in horror and black comedy with projects such as Slither and the remake of Dawn of the Dead) and directed by Greg McLean (currently making a name for himself with the critically acclaimed television series Wolf Creek), the two have collaborated to create a film that is uncompromising on its savage premise. It’s a violent, practical effects laced throwback to action thrillers of the 80s and 90s.
Keep in mind, The Belko Experiment does have more on its mind (sometimes anyway) than going for shock value by way of exploding heads and bodies being carved into like Thanksgiving dinner. It’s attempting to show a possibility of a real-life office environment when all rules have been thrown out the window. A female worker is early glimpsed politely messaging a co-worker regarding her displeasure with his perverted and rude staring from across the building floor, but when the Belko building becomes a battlefield she has no problems bringing up her feelings in a more deserving argumentative fashion. Good for her, it’s not like she can lose her job anymore for standing up to sexual harassment.
For the most part though, The Belko Experiment is a straight-up bloodbath more interested in chaos and death than exploring the social constructs of this aberrant experiment. Thankfully, before everyone is fending for their lives, characters react unlike a singular hive mind. Some employees freak out, others feel it’s a prank, and some simply don’t know what to think. Everyone involved is still a stereotype (present are cliche family men, defenseless women, over-the-top villains, conspiracy theorist hippies), without any character definition, but it’s nice that the situation is examined before going to hell. Continuing along with that theme, once it becomes clear that the experiment is not a joke, characters continue to have different reactions. Some feel that they and everyone else have absolutely no right to take human life or determine who lives, while a nasty bunch band together raiding a bunch of firearms. In a very deliriously entertaining yet simultaneously upsetting sequence, that same group lines up a staggering amount of co-workers against a wall, murdering them one by one in cold blood to a Latin rendition (the film is set in Columbia) of “California Dreamin”.
The Belko Experiment also most definitely has a twisted sense of humor (one would expect nothing less from a script by James Gunn) that Greg McLean does a serviceable job translating to the screen. Plastered all over various walls of the towering building are cheesy motivational workplace quotes about bringing everyone together. Yes, nothing says bringing people together like murdering coworkers are most likely probably can’t stand! Still, it just doesn’t feel enough to fully articulate the attempted social satire. Perhaps the concept is flawed from the very beginning by having roughly 80 characters, especially considering that the majority of the protagonists and antagonists are as blank as the extras waiting around to have their tracking bomb detonated. There are maybe two times I actually felt a sliver of emotion watching someone die, which is a bit embarrassing factoring in how much death is here.
However, even if it does admittedly miss the mark on social commentary, some of the deaths here are uproariously gory and simply awesome to behold. A better movie would take itself less seriously and go for more black humor, but at least The Belko Experiment fearlessly trades that for outrageous levels of violence and gushing blood. Axes, cleavers, guns, office appliances; everything is a weapon here, and such creativity deserves being applauded. At a brisk 87 minutes, just treat the film like an amusement park ride, basking in the pleasure of watching coworkers murder each other in a sick social experiment.
Lastly, and no disrespect to Greg McLean is intended, but the concept of The Belko Experiment is filled with so much untapped potential that it feels appropriate to wish that James Gunn had directed it himself. The movie is fun, but also a missed opportunity to be heralded as a socially relevant horror masterpiece.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★