Studio: RLJ Entertainment
Director: Joe Lynch
Writer: Matias Caruso
Producer: Mehrdad Elie, Sean Sorensen, Lawrence Mattis, Matt Smith, Parisa Caviani
Stars: Steven Yeun, Samara Weaving, Dallas Roberts, Caroline Chikezie, Mark Steven Frost, Kerry Fox, Lucy Chappell, Steven Brand
A fired lawyer battles his way to his bosses for revenge after their office building is consumed by a madness-inducing virus.
Remember the “affluenza” argument that earned a privileged teen probation despite having killed four people while driving drunk? Or the family who sued Judas Priest over supposedly subliminal music messages that coerced their suicidal son into firing a shotgun at his face?
Courtrooms are chock full of shameless lawyers crafting obnoxious excuses to exonerate clients, no matter how crazy those excuses might be. Upstart attorney Derek Cho had one such case, though he didn’t have to stretch the truth much to make his unusual plea to the jury.
Deadly virus ID-7, also known as “the red eye virus” for the telltale sign of those afflicted, attacks the id, crippling inhibitions and causing stress levels to rise. Someone infected succumbs to animalistic impulses, acting on bloodlust that can cause them to murder anyone who triggers their rage.
That’s how Derek got Nevil Reed acquitted of homicide after a massive outbreak racked up a terrible death toll. Nevil went home thanks to his “not my fault” defense and Derek was rewarded with an office at Towers and Smythe Consulting, where his rise up the firm’s ranks changed Derek from nebbish newcomer to unscrupulous shark in a suit.
Your star only shines as bright as your most recent account at Towers and Smythe, however. Derek has been set up as the fall guy for a disastrous oversight and he is now on his way out because of it. Except he can’t literally leave because the office tower is on lockdown after a sudden CDC quarantine.
ID-7 has infected the building, and it will be eight hours before it is neutralized. That’s how much time Derek now has to make his way to the top floor and plead his case to the board. Fortunately, Derek set the legal precedent that will absolve him of the bodies he’ll drop while ascending a vertical gauntlet of “28 Days Later”-like madness. Unfortunately, Derek’s only ally is Melanie, and he just booted her out of his office for a personal problem he simply couldn’t be bothered with.
Even though the midnight movie mania of Joe Lynch’s “Mayhem” makes it entertaining in its own right as a raucous romper stomper of crowd-pleasing corporate carnage, I can’t help but believe I might have enjoyed it more had I not been only a few days removed from screening Greg McLean and James Gunn’s similarly conceived “The Belko Experiment” (review here). Because “The Belko Experiment,” which also operates on a premise of “anything goes” insanity turning colleagues into combatants and their office space into an arena, is bigger in terms of associated talent and public awareness, “Mayhem” is possibly doomed to be referred to in conversation as “no, that other office building anarchy movie.” Perhaps Lynch and company can commiserate with the makers of “Delivery: The Beast Within” (review here), the superior “found footage” demonic pregnancy film that will forever be in the shadow of the more mainstream, but less memorable “Devil’s Due” (review here).
Yet while “The Belko Experiment” builds the bulk of its personality from snazzy production value and a stacked roster of better-known names for a sleekly appealing presentation, “Mayhem” has substance in its scrappiness that makes it more satisfying as a story. Here, the setup regarding moral barrier breakdowns in the workplace fully functions as a universally relatable “what if?” of idle mind fantasy.
Creative characters capably take us there too. Out in front is Steven Yeun of “The Walking Dead,” whose onscreen spirit is so affable, he’s easy to rally behind even as an apologetic assh*le, never mind how questionable his outrageous actions become. Supporting players including Caroline Chikezie and Dallas Roberts all have their turn to match Yeun with equal aplomb alternating between simmering coworker resentment and totally teeth-baring terror.
Not that “Mayhem” is overly concerned with satirically savaging corporate politics through subtext. The movie would be first to admit its main attraction is touted in the title. “Mayhem” invests most of its metaphoric money in violent stocks, bloody bonds, and a mutual fund of muah-ha-ha black humor. If it is balls-to-the-wall brutality you want, “Mayhem” has you covered.
Its rawer indie edge doesn’t come without consequences. At a SXSW screening, director Joe Lynch accurately joked that an apt alternate title might be “F*ck You: The Movie” considering overflowing obscenities in the dialogue. Indeed, there is a coarseness to the movie’s attitude that can come off as crude. And on occasions when the frenzied fun and vicious violence is outscored by juvenile jocularity, a once sharp edge dulls.
Overlook that better bits bookend a midsection sagging from redundant action and “Mayhem” still thrills. It can be a coin flip as to which is the preferable of the two, but one thing is for certain, don’t make “Mayhem” a double feature with “The Belko Experiment,” as whichever comes second will likely lose a few points from the first.
Review Score: 70