Mayhem Review [SXSW 2017]

Matt Donato

Reviewed by:
On March 15, 2017
Last modified:March 15, 2017


Mayhem is a wonderfully violent middle finger to corporate culture, gleeful in its desire to redecorate cubicles with red blood splatters.

Mayhem Review [SXSW 2017]

Need a break from 9-5 monotony? Mayhem is one wonderfully violent “fuck you” to corporate culture, satirical in its ability to bastardize desk-jockey soullessness. We spend hours upon hours working for bosses who benefit the most, but how long can power gaps linger before tensions boil over? Director Joe Lynch accelerates this process with an injected viral string, uninhibited colleagues and a quarantined Thunderdome, all in the name of pencil-snapping stress relief. When systems break down, it’s time for the underlings to rise – golden parachutes aren’t saving anyone.

Steven Yeun stars as Derek Cho, a driven employee of Towers & Smythe Consulting. He’s worked his way up one rung at a time, but suddenly finds himself without a job after being framed by colleague Kara (Caroline Chikezie). Enraged, Derek plans to plead his case to boss John Towers (Steven Brand) and “The 9” (team of partners) – just as a mayhem-causing virus starts spreading through the office. Doors are locked, the government shows up and an eight-hour countdown begins until the viral infection subsides. Time for Derek to finally get some real work done.

Lynch’s fantasy pathogen is dubbed ID7. It’s a mental filter-remover that allows those infected to act without restraint. Hosts become violent, horny versions of themselves that have no regard for social boundaries. If two lovers are on a date in public and the mood strikes, they’ll fornicate emphatically atop a restaurant table. Likewise, if you become angry at someone, you’ll beat them until all that remains is a bloody mound of pulp. This means that characters waver between rabid psycho-aggressive murderers and normal Joes/Janes, making for a fluid dynamic that cranks workplace frustration up to 11. Think of Mayhem as a sister-feature to Greg McLean’s The Belko Experiment, except conspiracy madness is traded for (brutal) beat-em-up simplicity.

As expected, this throws quite a wrench in Derek’s plan. He’s forced to fight his way to the top (literally), hitting each floor like a new video game level. First he starts with an HR overlord nicknamed “The Reaper” (Dallas Roberts), then it’s to Operations Manager Kara “The Siren,” followed by muscle-head “The Bull” (André Eriksen) – each of whom represent a seedy business practice. One by one, Derek punches his way through interns and co-workers who Towers has empowered (with help from a $450K bounty on Derek’s head). Each newly acquired keycard brings Derek closer to Mr. Towers, like defeating mini-bosses before reaching a final boss challenge with dire consequences.

Along for the ride is Melanie Cross (Samara Weaving), who picked the wrong day to fight her foreclosure notice. Derek does his job and turns her away but, once fired, she ends up being his only ally. The duo band together with common interests, and force their way through a horde of potential threats. Cross cuts through rib cages with a power-saw, Yeun bashes skulls with a wrench, some nail-gun shots are discharged – Weaving and Yeun commit themselves to survivalist fighting with battered results. This is because Lynch’s ID7 outburst calls for heavy doses of blood-soaked, absolutely balls-to-the-wall action, like something from an M-rated street brawler. As Derek stands there – red stains covering 90% of his white top – we feel the ache that saps his energy. Lynch’s onslaught is relentless, but so appreciated as waves of henchmen attempt to terminate the film’s two “heroes.”

Yeun’s post-Walking Dead life is off to an invigorating start, as he plays the part of underling Derek with such freeing angst. Even as ID7 transforms Towers & Smythe into a dystopian royal rumble some few stories tall, executives are worried about the $200 per hour that each employee could still be earning. Yeun so handily enacts an appropriate gone-postal narrative with psychical abuse and “damn the man” sentiments, but Weaving is his better half. She cooly charms in colorful Ray Ban sunglasses, powered by instinct and a love for Motörhead. Weaving never falls behind Yeun during their tag-team escape, but the skirt-wearing warrioress cracks a much sharper wit that allows for dark, enjoyable laughs. Her face alone during a manager/assistant “disagreement” is worth 100 chuckles, only outdone by a Dave Matthews Band skewering despite Yeun’s protest.

As infection thrillers go, Mayhem spreads the good word of deconstructed civilization with furious rage. As a top-down damnation of corporate greed, Mayhem is a blood-soaked letter opener to the heart of perceived “success.” As a midnight genre flick in a contained setting, Mayhem brutalizes its way through a white-collar Dante’s Inferno built on gruesome fight choreography and an event nastier mean-streak. This is Joe Lynch’s biggest, best and wildest genre exploration, wrapped tightly around one mighty middle finger. Just another day at the office? Not in Mayhem.

Mayhem Review [SXSW 2017]

Mayhem is a wonderfully violent middle finger to corporate culture, gleeful in its desire to redecorate cubicles with red blood splatters.