Originally published Apr. 10th, 2017 on thedistantcloseup.com
WARNING: Some minor spoilers within.
Assuming you work in an office, what’s the seating plan like? Is it people assigned to a certain cubicle, in which case there are only a certain amount of people you’ll see in a given day, or is it a more open plan giving you a full view of everybody? Whichever you find yourself in, would you say it better fosters relationships with your coworkers or worsens it? Some might say an open plan is better considering it does better help some interact with others, but let’s be honest, you likely aren’t going to be friends with everyone, and sometimes solitude is refreshing.
Whatever healthy relations you do have with you fellow employees, genre vet James Gunn is here to mercilessly tear it all down. Written by Gunn and directed by Greg McLean, The Belko Experiment is essentially Gunn’s bitter way of saying these friendships we cultivate in an office space are, at the end of the day, facile at best. Perhaps we all have that coworker we wish we could tear a new one, but what if you were placed in a situation where you had to kill them, or anyone else around you?
Surely, you’ve seen enough advertising for Blumhouse Tilt’s new $5 million thriller to know the basic gist, but even sweeter than the violence that ensues is the knowledge that Gunn knows where his roots are. Yes, we all can love what he did with Guardians of the Galaxy and become hyped out of our minds for Vol. 2, but it’s nice to know that he can come back and create unabashed genre flicks such as this. Anyone who vaguely knows his name from the aforementioned Marvel movies should take the time to look up films like Slither and Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead remake.
Just like those two films, when the violence arrives in The Belko Experiment, it comes thick and fast, it is jarring and it is bloody. Coming back around to the idea that work friendships are merely superficial, Gunn and McLean have great fun in destroying the lives of people who do choose to stick together rather than start randomly maiming people, maintaining an element of surprise with who goes when, but also dwindling the numbers with plot-friendly convenience. The last round of savage killers are who you expect them to be, but it’s the journey getting there that’s most important.
But while the often-creative bloodletting is a joy to take in for any genre fan, those expecting a lean, mean, vicious monster of picture that’s constantly balls to the wall might be a little disappointed. Aside from the final act, the violence comes in pockets of the narrative, spacing them out in between moments of character conflict that draw a distinct line, separating the Belko employees in two camps: those who do not wish to kill and those who find it justifiable given the circumstances. Even though the film is less than an hour and a half long, this structure may slow the pace down a little too much for some viewers’ tastes, especially if they’re expecting the vicious free-for-all melee the advertising suggested.
There’s a decent amount of acerbic humor to offset the brutality, though not every attempt lands, or is accomplished as gracefully as you’d hope from someone with a horror-comedy background. And though many have noted that Gunn’s satirical edge on the dog-eat-dog mentality of the business world is routine and provides nothing enlightening, it feels rather beside the point here. It’s undoubtedly there, but Gunn and McLean gleefully parade about explosions of gore rather than waste time implicitly telling the audience what most would presumably already know.
For better and for worse, The Belko Experiment is simple exploitation pleasure. Though it won’t likely attain the cult status it longs for, but it does just enough for a guaranteed good time if you aren’t expecting very much, including the material’s frequently sluggish jaunt and a solid cast playing less than compelling characters. Just maybe it would have been better if, given McLean’s filmography, it had a surprise guest appearance from John Jarrett’s Mick Taylor, and maybe even the giant crocodile in Rogue.
Would either have made sense? No, but just imagine Mick as the unanimous ring leader of carnage, and maybe the incredulousness of a man-eating croc would balance the scales against some of the most tragically bad-good green screen in recent memory.