Studio: Orion Pictures
Director: Greg McLean
Writer: James Gunn
Producer: Peter Safran, James Gunn
Stars: John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Owain Yeoman, Sean Gunn, Brent Sexton, Josh Brener, David Dastmalchian, David Del Rio, Gregg Henry, Michael Rooker
80 employees of a mysterious corporation are locked inside an office building and forced to murder one another.
What would happen at your office if every door and window suddenly shuttered with impenetrable metal and an unknown voice on the intercom demanded a handful of murders or else even more people will die? Who would you turn to? Who might you turn on? Would you be secretly pleased to see Dave from Accounting get what he has always had coming to him?
Save for that last one, these are questions facing 80 American employees at the Belko Industries building in Bogota. COO Barry Norris and middle manager Mike Milch sensed something strange when they noticed Columbian nationals being sent home early by armed guards. It starts making more sense why those same guards then assembled in the hangar next door, although everyone is under an initial impression that someone is playing a sick joke.
76 employees quickly figure out the “kill or be killed” command is very real indeed when the skulls of four coworkers suddenly go boom. It seems the tracking chips implanted in their heads to protect against corporate kidnapping are actually remote detonation bombs. When the voice returns with his next instruction, everyone now knows stakes are deadly serious.
This presumed prank is actually an elaborate experiment whose second scenario is simple. Kill 30 people amongst yourselves or Belko will choose random victims and double that number to 60. Time has come for everyone to choose sides over how best to survive. The ultimate outcome is uncertain. Whatever the unknown endgame is, it’s going to be a bloodbath getting there.
It’s somewhat surprising that was a 250-word summary since the setup of “The Belko Experiment” is really quite simple. The film has been described as “Office Space” meets “Battle Royale” and that is exactly it in a nutshell. 90 nearly nonstop minutes of madness showcase the sinister social experiment turning John and Jane Lunchpail into “Lord of the Flies” savages, who cave in coworkers’ heads with axes and shoot each other in the face.
That’s a low road approach to suspense entertainment. However, James Gunn’s script, Greg McLean’s direction, and a cast in top form elevate gory thrills with sly style.
Gunn and McLean are well aware that their ongoing assault of violence puts energy at an unrelenting peak. Thus a dark joke, usually tied to relatable workplace humor, is placed here and there so viewers can pause to come down before things get graphic again.
With over a dozen featured employees playing notable roles, many characters only have brief moments to make a mark. That’s why it’s essential that “The Belko Experiment” bring in bigger guns like Michael Rooker and John C. McGinley for bit parts or support. Their personalities add immediate weight to characterizations that the script just doesn’t have time for. Without the seriousness John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, and Adria Arjona bring to the lead trio, the story might sink under its inherent absurdity.
On occasion, “The Belko Experiment” captures some of the claustrophobic chaos created when a blinding blackout sends terrified men and women into mad scrambles for an exit. Mostly though, it’s a lot of people panicking and pleading for their lives punctuated by explosively outstanding effects keeping the casualty counter ridiculously high.
There’s no doubt that “The Belko Experiment” moves terrifically and its tension is tight, yet there is a Chinese food effect leaving stomachs rumbling after end credits roll. The film has a frenzied flavor that feels fine in the moment, but the end to that elation brings a realization that there isn’t much lasting taste to the meal.
It’s as if the filmmakers had 85% of a great idea for action-horror spiked with black comedy and, unsure of how to build up the background with substance, patched over the other 15% with the notion that they’d at least make it look cool. And that they did. This leaves “The Belko Experiment” as a midnight movie crowd-pleaser of boldly bloody proportions. But without any underlying method saying something about the madness, there is little point to the proceedings other than serving simply as outrageous entertainment.
Review Score: 65