Directed by Joe Lynch
Starring Steven Yeun, Samara Weaving, Steven Brand, Caroline Chikezie, Kerry Fox, Dallas Roberts, Mark Frost, Claire Dellamar, André Eriksen
A virus infects a corporate law office on the day attorney Derek Saunders (Yeun) is framed by a co-worker and wrongfully fired. The infection is capable of making people act out their wildest impulses. Trapped in the quarantined building, our hero is forced to savagely fight tooth and nail for not only his job but his life.
Here in the UK we have a company called Ronsil who sell gardening products like wood cleaners, weed killers, etc. Their gimmick was the products didn’t have clever names, they were just Ronsil Wood Cleaner or Ronsil Weed Killer – it does exactly what it says on the tin. This can also happen in movies. In the case of Joe Lynch’s Mayhem, it provides exactly what it says on the tin: utter mayhem. And some carnage, too.
During the late 1990s, there was this big drive in the ‘blue collared worker who hates his boss’ in movies and TV programs. The overpowering of Corporate America drove filmmakers to appeal to these guys and gals stuck if office jobs wanting to fight back by making movies about the over-worked pencil pusher going against the suits in corner offices. “Who wouldn’t want to punch their boss in the face?” they’d ask as ‘Joe Office’ sits at home in his underwear hating life. Mayhem – here in 2017 where Corporate America is at its biggest and most terrifying due to it holding a seat in the White House – poses that same question, but also adds, “what if you could use a nail gun too?”
Mayhem centres around a fictional viral string that lowers inhibitions. If you’re angry, you just get angrier; If you’re filled with hate, the hate intensifies; If you’re horny, you’re getting it on with any Tom, Dick, or Harriett. In the case of Derek (Steven Yeun), he’s just been fired from his job for something he didn’t do, and is now climbing the corporate ladder – both figuratively and literally – while his office block is in quarantine due to the virus spreading. The spread will only last eight hours, but that’s all he needs.
But it’s not just Derek that’s infected – it’s everyone in his office block. As Derek and his new best friend Melanie (who is having her house foreclosed by the top brass of the company) climb up each level of the building like a video game, there is nothing but carnage around them. They may be fighting off a group of raging guys and gals with a shopping cart full of plunder, but in the background are some other folk beating the holy hell out of each other. It is literal mayhem, a visual treat that begs re-watches to get all the little details. And if they’re not fighting, they’re throwing trash around, setting things on fire, or getting frisky. Lynch throws everything against the wall and it really doesn’t matter if nothing sticks. That’s the beauty of mayhem, it’s not controllable.
One would assume then with this virus and the plot around it that Mayhem would be full of guts and gore similar to Lynch’s podcast buddy Adam Green’s Hatchet movies. Think again. Mayhem spurts blood, but it’s never gory or glorified. The violence is more visceral than that. It’s all about the impact of the punches, the effect of the kicks, the power of the scissors going through someone’s hand. Mayhem is a hell of a lot of fun, and part of that is down to the fact Lynch focuses his attention on the right things like character, motivation and wickedly smart editing. It’s not toned down, it’s just amped up in other ways.
Yeun is fantastic in the role of Derek. Like Pantera, he has a vulgar display of power when on screen in both his action and dialogue scenes. One minute he’s a very believable downtrodden employee who just wants respect and his mug back, and then he’s just as believable when the switch is flicked and he’s throwing lefts and rights. In his post-screening Q&A Lynch noted that Yeun was perfect on screen, and it’s hard to argue against him. But a leading man is only as good as his leading lady, and that’s why Samara Weaving perhaps steals the show. In this economic climate, people are losing their houses left, right and centre. And to see this poor woman lose her house over a technicality, it just makes her anger, rage and plight all the more relatable. Matias Caruso’s script touches upon some very real subject matters, which are heightened with all the bonkers carnage surrounding it.
Lynch also noted in his Q&A that he has had to take office jobs just like the ones in Mayhem due to independent cinema never making money, which is a real shame because he is a true great of his craft. He understands horror direction incredibly well, and that’s displayed in Mayhem. The film is so much fun; a literal riot from start to end. Like Ronsil, Mayhem gives you exactly what it says on the poster and doesn’t shy away from that.
Coming to SHUDDER in Early 2018
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth, the co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast and the author of Lights, Camera, GAME OVER!: How Video Game Movies Get Made. You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen.