James Gunn (“Slither”) and Greg McLean (“Wolf Creek”) are an interesting pairing. Mclean’s “Wolf Creek” series has a reputation for brutality while James Gunn tends to produce films with a bit of wit and bizarre charm. With their powers combined will we get a film that compliments both styles or fall a bit short of each?
“The Belko Experiment” is “Battle Royale” meets “Office Space.” In the film the office workers of Belko Industries are reporting in for what appears to be another typical day at the office. However, their morning routine is interrupted when a voice on the PA system announces that they must kill their coworkers or be killed themselves. Of course they naturally assume this is some sort of horrible prank, but when the doors and windows are sealed shut with impenetrable plates of metal and people’s heads start to explode, the Belko employees realize they have to turn on their friends and coworkers to survive.
As you might expect this is the kind of film that is all about the body count and with some 60+ people in the office building, there are plenty of opportunities to watch people die. But the film isn’t just solid gore from beginning to end. It ponders the ethical quandary of killing some so that others may live. There’s a good scene or two where characters air out their grievances and try to debate the situation, but the film doesn’t dwell on this issue for too long. This isn’t a think piece kind of film, but it spends just enough time to give motivation to some of the characters so you understand their choice to kill or not kill.
However, the film will come off as a little light for those hoping that “The Belko Experiment” delves deeper into the psyche of people trapped in this kind of situation. Once the mayhem commences, the film just rides the chaos into the sunset. Which is perfectly fine, but it doesn’t have a satisfying payoff and doesn’t build up to anything truly memorable. There’s no grand plan at work here, “The Belko Experiment” is exactly what you think it is from beginning to end. And that feels a bit disappointing considering the kind of quirky stuff Gunn is capable of.
But the bloody carnage and characters involved in it are good enough to carry the film regardless. In the film it’s revealed that the employees of Belko have little bombs implanted in their head. Early on they tell you that they implanted the bombs under the ruse of putting trackers in their heads in case they get kidnapped. It’s a little absurd, but the movie doesn’t shy away from being just a tad bit silly at times. Anyways, these trackers lead to some truly gripping moments when people’s heads start to randomly explode. I felt uneasy throughout as I waited in anticipation for someone’s head to pop without warning. This leads to some solid jump scares and some rather surreal imagery reminiscent of “Kingsman.”
The rest of the gore comes by way of more visceral tactics as people are shot, stabbed, burned, and crushed. Just think about being in an office building and having to kill someone with just the things laying around you and you can imagine the type of weaponry we’re dealing with here. Unfortunately, no one ever gets too creative with their kills. It’s all pretty straightforward, but that makes a sort of sense as people are more focused on killing quickly than earning style points.
“Belko” is rounded out with a great cast of familiar faces that do an excellent job of delivering Gunn’s sometimes snappy/sometimes hilariously awkward dialog. John Gallagher Jr (“Hush”) plays the main lead trying to bring order to chaos while Tony Goldwyn (“Scandal”) plays the more pragmatic COO. Sean Gunn pops up as a stoner and Josh Brenner (“Silicon Valley”) plays a tech geek. Michael Rooker shows up as a maintenance man and John C McGinley (“Scrubs”) plays a creepily possessive coworker. There are plenty of character types in the film who fill a role in your head the moment you see them, but the people playing them and the bit of characterization they’re given by Gunn allow them to feel semi-dimensional. Although I think I wound up injecting more life into them by virtue of them being all actors I know and like.
“The Belko Experiment” is a splatterfest with a heavy dose of wit to keep things light as heads explode. The film isn’t a deep metaphor about society or at least one that we haven’t seen done with more depth elsewhere, but it’s still a thrilling experience that kept me on edge and chuckling. McLean and Gunn turn out to be a pretty excellent tag team and I hope we get to see them collaborate again in the future.
Also I have to mention that I loved the choice of soundtrack for this film. It’s all Latin rock versions of classic American songs like “California Dreaming” and “I Will Survive.” It’s a combo I didn’t know I needed in my life.