Written by James Gunn and Directed by Greg McClean, The Belko Experiment has a similar plot to Battle Royale, but instead of Japanese children on an island, it’s American desk jockeys in Bogotá, Colombia trapped in their high-rise office who are the ones forced into a situation that necessitates them brutally killing each other. That’s where the similarities start and stop, however; Battle Royale is much more of a tongue and cheek social commentary examining the conflict found within generational ideology, while The Belko Experiment focuses on exploring human nature and the troubling consequences that come with survival of the fittest. It’s an intensely dark, and gory ride that features one of the most brutally unsettling moments the horror genre has seen in a very long time.
The film begins with our introductions to The Belko Corporation employees before thrusting their building into a total lockdown complete with impenetrable walls surrounding all entryways and exits. Shortly thereafter, a mysterious voice over a loudspeaker states that the Belko employees have just a short amount of time to kill two of their fellow co-workers; failure to do so will result in unfavorable consequences. From there on, things just get worse; as time progresses, so do the demands for death and slaughter. Initially, some people take the threats seriously, some wave it all off as a silly prank, some arm themselves and prepare for the worst, some form alliances, and some hide. It’s interesting to see the various reactions and how each of the characters process their predicament in completely different ways. No one immediately jumps into a murderous rage, so you’re in for a slow burn type of situation just waiting for things to unfurl into complete and utter chaos. A part of me thinks you wait a bit too long for the cathartic bloodbath, but I get where they’re going with this; it’s all about the setup and holding on that tension.
“Horror fans with a strong stomach for gore, mayhem, and intensity will find a lot to enjoy here…”
The film’s protagonist is Mike Milch, played by John Gallagher Jr. Mike tries to look for answers while trying to keep everyone else rational and calm. Adria Arjona plays Leandra, Mike’s more cynical love interest that feels things are inevitably going to escalate to a point where people will begin to tear each other apart. The two make for likeable leads with an interesting dynamic. The marvelous John C. McGinley plays Wendell Dukes, a Belko Exec who has a creepy obsession with Leandra. McGinley is delightful in this film, especially when things start to heat up; he gleefully gives into his violent nature and it is glorious. Tony Goldwyn plays Belko COO and ex-military Barry Norris, the primary villain of the film. Norris snaps from ‘concerned boss looking for a solution and escape plan’ into ‘psychotic and coldblooded killer intent on survival’ absolutely effortlessly. There are moments where you see the conflict he’s dealing with when he has to make grueling decisions, but he’s so intent on surviving that he’ll do whatever it takes to live, and that makes for a complex and interesting character. Goldwyn is, hands down, my favorite part of the film. That scene I mentioned at the beginning of my review heavily revolves around his character, and Goldwyn does some master class acting with his physicality and facial emoting.
The film is not without its flaws, however; there are way too many characters, and with a short running time of 88 minutes, there’s not enough time for us to get to know, or care about, a majority of them. I understand the desire to set the film in a high-rise office building, and the need for a high body count, but if there were less people to keep track of, I think the film would have been tighter. The gore and graphic violence would have had much more of an impact if we knew more about some of these characters before things went south. I also feel that the pacing was a bit inconsistent; some parts felt like they moved too slowly, (ex. scenes of delegation/attempts at escaping) and other parts moved too fast (the climax). The shining points are the premise, the acting, the edge of your seat tension, and the gruesome violent gore FX; the low points are the pacing, the overstuffed cast, and the short runtime that won’t allow certain actors and actresses enough material and time to shine. Also, I love Sean Gunn, but I felt like the film suffered because of his one-dimensional stoner character; it just didn’t fit with the attitude and tone consistent with the rest of the film. On the flipside, Michael Rooker was fantastic as Belko’s head of maintenance, Bud Melks, but it should be a crime to have Rooker in your movie and not feature him more prominently.
Promotional material for the film is advertising it as “Office Space meets Battle Royale” and that shit needs to stop right now; the only thing this film has in common with Office Space is the setting and John C. McGinley. This film’s comedic moments are few and far between; The Belko Experiment takes itself way too seriously for that to be a valid comparison. If anything, it reminds me of a cross between Die Hard and Battle Royale, but even the Die Hard comparison is sort of stretching it. Horror fans with a strong stomach for gore, mayhem, and intensity will find a lot to enjoy here if they’re willing to overlook some flaws, but this one will definitely be too much for folks with milder proclivities. Its well shot, well acted, and worth a look, just don’t expect a lot of lighthearted quirky office humor, or onslaughts of campy severed limbs and decapitations. The Belko Experiment takes itself terrifyingly seriously, making for a nerve-racking experience in terror.
The Belko Experiment (2017) Directed by: Greg Mclean. Written by: James Gunn. Starring: John Gallagher Jr., Adria Arjona, Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Josh Brener, Sean Gunn, Michael Rooker, James Earl, Melonie Diaz, Rusty Schwimmer.
7 out of 10