Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Violence throughout, Language including Sexual References, and some Drug Use
Directed by: Greg McLean
Written by: James Gunn
Starring: John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Josh Brener, Michael Rooker & Gregg Henry
Work sucks. You probably deal with stupid people on a daily basis and suffer small indignities that pile on unnecessary stress, but things could be a hell of a lot worse. How, you might ask? Well, have you ever had to dodge bullets in your office while using a paper trimmer as an improvised weapon? No? Things don’t seem quite as bad now, do they? THE BELKO EXPERIMENT has this exact scenario play out and turns an office building into a bloody battleground. Directed by Greg McLean (WOLF CREEK) and penned by James Gunn (SLITHER), this film is BATTLE ROYALE in an office building. Though it has flaws, THE BELKO EXPERIMENT is a lot of fun…if office drones slaughtering each other sounds like fun to you. To me, it certainly does and I enjoyed watching this flick.
Belko Industries is a large business that’s located in the middle of nowhere. It seems like a pretty nice place to work (big money, cushy jobs, company cars and paid-for apartments), but all of that changes in an instant. Without warning, a voice comes over the intercom and informs employees that they are now part of a twisted experiment. They must kill two people or face dire consequences. The workers laugh this announcement off as a bad joke, but unexpected metal security doors proceed block off all exits and windows. Still, they refuse to murder and then a few heads explode. The Belko employees will participate in this kill-or-be-killed exercise or their brains will be blown to kingdom come. Things begin to breakdown into thick tensions and bloody carnage as the voice on the intercom demands more bodies…
THE BELKO EXPERIMENT wears its influences on its sleeve. The biggest of these being, of course, BATTLE ROYALE. The script liberally borrows a few plot devices from that film to ensure that things get as bloody as they possibly can, which is a very good thing in a story like this. There’s also a quirky sense of humor as employees attempt to salvage normalcy and remain somewhat civilized in the face of this unthinkable scenario. The office setting, creative killing tools, and little mannerisms all naturally lend a goofy vibe to the proceedings, making a few disturbing scenarios into something downright comical. One of my favorite bits involves a particularly gruesome demise while the company’s promotional video plays in the background.
Despite having 80 employees in the building, Gunn’s script does a solid job of giving many of Belko’s workers time to shine in individual moments. There’s a sense that we’ve all met these people in one setting or another, which makes it even more interesting to watch as they start offing each other. The characters you’d expect to be psychos do become psychos, which could be seen as a problem in the plot’s predictability. Still, the ways that they become unhinged remain entertaining. The film isn’t constant carnage from the minute the killing starts, but begins with small bits of bloodshed and allows for a pressure-cooker of “what would you do?” suspense to build before bursting into an action-packed orgy of chaos. The slower bits and murdery moments deliver equal levels of intensity for entirely different reasons.
John Gallagher Jr. (who recently played a survivor in 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE and a psycho-killer in HUSH) plays pacifist protagonist Mike. His constant rationalization of trying to save everybody makes a hero that the audience can root for, while some folks around him seem a little too eager to slaughter their coworkers. Adria Arjona is solid as Mike’s girlfriend and delivers two of the film’s best scenes. Meanwhile, Tony Goldwyn shines as the murder-happy boss and John C. McGinley is great as the office creep (coming off like a psycho version of Milton from OFFICE SPACE). Other cast highlights include: Sean Gunn as a Shaggy-like stoner, Michael Rooker as the scruffy head of Maintenance, Melonie Diaz as an innocent new hire, and Rusty Schwimmer as a security guard. Most of the background characters are colorful enough to stick out too, making their murders and deaths seem like more than just a generic body count.
THE BELKO EXPERIMENT was definitely influenced by other (better) films and is predictable to an extent, but neither of these things really damage the film’s fun. The entertainment factor is through the roof as we watch colorful office drones turn on each other and bite it in various ways. There’s also a sinister sense of humor, even though this isn’t exactly a laugh riot. The film lets its extreme situation naturally build, with effective pacing that puts the viewer in the shoes of these characters. There was a specific scene where I was rooting for one character to brutally kill another character. The film then allowed for a small breath of hesitation to let the audience realize that they had just been put into the same mindset of that character. There’s something special about a film that can accomplish that. If you’re a horror fan, then THE BELKO EXPERIMENT is a gory good time!