Daily cubicle sitting can often lead to a feeling of employed imprisonment, but that’s nothing compared to director Greg Mclean and writer James Gunn’s take on the vilest, most nightmarish working conditions possible in The Belko Experiment.
Part psychological shocker, part brutal workplace carnage, this angry bite of uber-violent social paranoia melds an Office Space meets Battle Royale hybrid that’s too aggressive to ignore. We’re talking sludge-y, explode-y violence that doesn’t just pile bodies, but paints the walls of Belko Industries a thick shade of vampire-blood red while Spanish covers of popular American classics set the tone (the “I Will Survive” opening is DYNAMITE). Work sucks, but be happy your company never made every employee fight to the death – imagine the HR paperwork!
John Gallagher Jr. stars as Mike Milch, a systems worker in the Bogota, Columbia offices of Belko Industries – a non-profit company that facilitates hiring of overseas US workers. On this particular day, Mike arrives at his office to find all locale employees were given the day off, only leaving 80 Americans. Everyone assumes it’ll be a quiet day, until an intercom voice instructs the confused lot to kill two of their co-workers before 30 minutes expires.
The deed is shrugged off as a joke – even by COO Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn) – but then, with no warning – SPLAT! Four employees find their heads blown open from the inside, and the intercom voice confirms any future requests are certainly no joke. With some 70 employees remaining, Belko’s remaining men and woman are informed that 30 must be killed within two hours, or more than 30 heads will be blown wide open. Could you kill a co-worker if it meant saving your own life?
To add a little more explanation, Gunn’s story makes sure most loose-ends are tied off. People’s heads keep exploding because Belko implanted tracers in every US employee for GPS purposes (or so they said). Cameras run through almost every hidden device possible – meaning constant surveillance – while weapons are planted in an attempt to quicken decisions. Guards surround the gates, while indestructible metal coverings seal up every window like a cold, metallic coffin. There’s truly no escape, and even less time to devise any other plans. The Belko Experiment is a sick, cruel bitch of a genre film, letting debased humanity be tortured for the sake of data and understanding.
Then we get into the whole dissection of morality, as Mclean and Gunn essentially click a stopwatch with the first intercom announcement, timing how long it’ll take for chaos to reign supreme. Barry Norris starts as a rational human – wanting to save employee lives – but when it becomes obvious that their new God (said voice) calls every shot, lines in the sand are drawn. Mike Milch takes a stance against innocent murder – with office-hookup Leandra (Adria Arjona) and a few others – while Norris recruits a muscle-heavy, hot-tempered squad of thugs (John C. McGinley as Leandra’s stalker Wendell Dukes, Owain Yeoman as “family man” Terry Richards).
Then you’ve got the wild cards – David Dastmalchian‘s mechanic Alonso and Sean Gunn’s hilarious super-baked, cafeteria-worker conspiracy theorist – who offer necessary disruptions to both calmness and insanity. We watch as hierarchies tumble and martial law attempts to enact “fair” assassination rules that chose the sacrifice of some for the safety of others. The strong get wicked, while the weak cower and hide – gruesome realities played out by some wickedly savage performances (*cough* John C. McGinley *cough*).
I won’t say there’s many surprises to be found once The Belko Experiment starts issuing orders to its terrified victims, but it helps to highlight Mclean’s direction more than scripted cues. Very early on – when heads start popping like juicy zits – Mclean makes it known that his horror scenario means business. Slick, skull-caving business. Cameras never turn away when blunt objects are used to bash faces to a meaty pulp, cutting back and forth between newly-birthed killers and the now-lifeless corpses being held under their weight. Mclean captures a blood-soaked descent into an unspeakable workplace hell, doing right to still display the uplifting mottos of Belko Industries while molotov cocktails explode and bodies decompose.
The Belko Experiment is a perfect watch for narcissists and conspiracy theorists alike, joining the ranks of Severance and Bloodsucking Bastards as a noteworthy workplace genre manipulation. Gunn’s jokey sensibilities are paired with Mclean’s butcher-like direction, making for a cleaner type of grindhouse flick that sits in a disturbing realm between “Absolutely ludicrous” and “This can never happen, right?” My nitpicks aren’t worth mentioning here, because horror fans have an insane, necessary watch on their hands – let the games begin.
The Belko Experiment rides a gushing wave of carnage through the elevators of an unsuspecting office building, gleefully making wolves out of sheep.
The Belko Experiment Review [TIFF 2016]