The employees of Belko Industries have a really bad day at the office when they are forced to play a deadly game against their colleagues, bosses, and friends.
The Belko Experiment is directed by Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) and written by James Gunn (Slither), and when I heard that winning combination, I was sold. Admittedly, McLean disappointed with his last venture into horror (2016’s woeful The Darkness) but I’m happy to report he’s back on form with this slick and violent offering. If you think your work is murder, you haven’t seen anything yet…
John Gallagher Jr. (Hush, 10 CloverField Lane) stars as Mike, one of the 80 American employees of Belko Industries working at a remote corporate office in Columbia. Despite noticing that things seem a little off when he arrives one morning, the day progresses like any other. That is, until the high-rise building goes into lockdown, and the staff are told over the intercom that they must start killing their colleagues, or more of them will die. Initially horrified, battle lines are quickly drawn when the mysterious person delivering the commands shows them what will happen if they don’t comply.
On paper, The Belko Experiment is essentially Battle Royale in an office building. In practise, it reminded me more of another film – a low-budget flick from 2013 called The Human Race, in which a group of people are forced to race and kill one another until only one remains. The films are surprisingly similar, right down to the number of participants involved in the game, the less than surprising ending, and the abundance of exploding heads. Where they differ is in execution, with The Human Race being endearingly silly, while The Belko Experiment pulls off its premise with a good deal more finesse, not to mention considerably better effects. Since I imagine only a handful of people actually saw The Human Race, it won’t bother the casual viewer, but both are worth checking out.
Though it’s not the most original premise in the world, The Belko Experiment is a fun, solid movie. This is largely due to a superb cast, many of whom seem to be in their own private competition to steal the most scenes. Coming out on top is John C. McGinley (best known for playing lovable narcissist Dr Cox on Scrubs) as the office pervert Wendell Dukes. McGinley is a delight to watch, and is clearly having a blast in every scene he hacks and slashes his way through. Also of note are Tony Goldwyn (Ghost) as ex-military boss Barry, and Sean Gunn as paranoid stoner Marty. Regular James Gunn collaborator and horror icon Michael Rooker (Slither, The Walking Dead) makes an enjoyable appearance as well.
The film does a great job taking a large cast of characters that we know very little about and making us care whether they live or die. In fact, the least relatable may actually be protagonist Mike, who makes a few decisions that seem remarkably foolish given the circumstances. While the film is not shy about killing its darlings, I would have preferred it to be less obvious who was going to survive. There were several points at which it could have done something very clever to subvert expectations, but it never did. As a result, the ending was a little disappointing and predictable.
Where The Belko Experiment shines, however, is in its sense of humour. Gunn’s Troma roots are evident in the script, and if anything the film could have benefited from going even further with its demented comedic tone to offset the grittier violence. Scenes like a sobbing employee trying to write a letter to his family while Marty empties his water cooler onto the carpet and shrieks about it being drugged are so deliciously wrong that they set this apart from similar fodder in the genre. A Spanish-language cover of Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ playing over an early scene is the icing on the blood-spattered cake.
It isn’t perfect. The kills could have been more creative. Some of the foreshadowing in the opening scene was cheap and unnecessary. And there’s one prominent character that I’m 99% certain the film just forgot about towards the climax, because he seemed quite alive in his final scene.
But for fans of the genre, The Belko Experiment is one to check out. It won’t appeal to everyone, but it’s got an excellent cast, some skull-busting gore, and enough blood to repaint an office with. Just don’t show it to your colleagues – they might think you’re trying to tell them something.
Words: Samantha McLaren (@themeatispeople)