Belko Experiment, TheReviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 03/16/17 12:29:17
There will almost certainly be worse movies released in 2017 than “The Belko Experiment”—there are new installments in the “Transformers” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchises on the way, after all—but they would be hard-pressed to fill me with as much sheer dislike as it has. A brainless bloodbath that is all the worse because it seems to think that it is far smarter and cleverer than it actually is, the ghastly blend of spurting gore, half-assed stabs at social satire, characters that would require at least a dozen page one rewrites to eventually reach the status of paper-thin and a dim worldview of anyplace not located within the continental United States, this film seems to exist only to answer the unasked question “What would “Office Space” have been like in the hands of Eli Roth?”As the film opens, the employees of the Bogota outpost of Belko Industries, a vaguely defined American non-profit organization, are arriving for work at their isolated hi-tech high-rise building and things are already a bit strange—a mysterious security team is searching all the cars as turning away all local workers, only allowing the 80 American employees inside. Things quickly take a turn for the worse when all communications are shut down, sheets of impenetrable steel slam down on every door and window in the entire building and a voice on the intercom informs them that most of them will be dead by the end of the day and that they shall be playing a game for their survival. For starters, the employees are to murder two of their own within 30 minutes or else. When time is up and no one has been killed, the heads of four employees suddenly explode—it turns out that the tracking devices all the American hires had implanted in them as a security measure against kidnapping have been rigged to go boom at the whim of their unseen but all-seeing tormentors.
When the voice informs those remaining that they have to kill 30 of themselves in the next four hours or lose 60 instead, the Belko family of employees quickly begins to fall apart. Nice middle-manager Mike (John Gallagher Jr.) is aghast at the very idea of killing others in the hopes of saving his own skin and tries a number of plans to outwit his tormentors with the help of a few others such as security guard Evan (James Earl), who holds the only key to the building armory, and Leandra (Adria Arjona), who is Mike’s not-so-secret office crush. Others, such as paranoid stoner Marty (Sean Gunn), begin to freak out over the increasingly real possibility that they will be dead in a few hours. Most dangerous of all, the alpha males of the organization, including COO Barry (Tony Goldwyn) and Wendell (John C, McGinley), who was already borderline crazy before heads started exploding because of his creepy fixation on Leandra, decide that, as unpleasant as it may seem, that some will have to die so that the rest may have a chance to live—of course, they decide that they will be the guys who decides who lives and who dies. As time ticks down, what little order remains finally breaks down and while Mike continues his resolve to try not to kill, the others start going after each other with any and all implements at hand—you might be surprised at the type of damage a Scotch tape dispenser can yield in the right hands.
The idea of throwing a bunch of ordinary people together and forcing them to kill each other or die themselves in what seems to be a bizarre game is, of course, not a particularly new or unique one, as anyone who has seen the likes of “The 10th Victim,” “Series 7: The Contenders,” “Battle Royale” or “The Hunger Games” (to name just a few) can attest. While those films might have seemed dubious from a taste perspective at first glance, they at least threw additional elements into the mix that helped make things a little more palatable—dark humor, characters worth caring about and plausible (at least within the confines of the narrative) reasons as to why everything is happening. “The Belko Experiment,” on the other hand, contains none of those ingredients and is all the poorer for it. The screenplay by James Gunn (which I suspect was originally conceived when he was working for Troma on such classics as “Tromeo & Juliet” and dusted off once “Guardians of the Galaxy” made a kajillion dollars) introduces the situation of a group of office workers whose white collars are quickly turned crimson but then does absolutely nothing of interest with it. The intention is presumably to make viewers sit and think about what they might do in such a situation, sort of the cinematic equivalent of a late-night college bull session that those crazy kids in “Rope” might have indulged in. Of course, one could just as easily debate that point without actually seeing the movie, especially since Gunn and director Greg McLean (the auteur of the equally sadistic “Wolf Creek” franchise) have neglected to supply anything else of interest. Instead of the savage take on office politics that one might expect from the previews, all we get is an endless series of scenes in which largely anonymous people are brutally killed. The satirical content doesn’t get much further than watching someone get butchered with a cleaver in the bathroom and then having the camera pan to a sign telling employees to not make a mess.
McLean and Gunn were clearly working under the assumption that viewers would be so enthralled by watching heads exploding ad nauseam that they would either overlook or ignore the lack of anything else going on in the film. The characters are ciphers who have been given exactly one character trait apiece before the blood starts spewing and as a result, the actors have nothing to work with and are generally wasted in parts that are either underwritten (such as Melonie Diaz, who is given scraps as a brand new hire who spends most of her time cowering in the basement) or ludicrously overdrawn (McGinley’s presence seems to be an homage to the similar role he played in “Office Space,” but his performance is so grating that it becomes a shoutout that should have been shouted down). And as for anyone who somehow wades through all the forgettable characters, the stomach-churning violence and the storyline that goes absolutely nowhere once it sets up its one-joke premise in the hopes that it will somehow pay off in the end, they will no doubt be enraged by a astoundingly half-assed conclusion that provides one funny joke before offering up a deeply implausible explanation that quickly dovetails into, of all things, a setup for a potential sequel.Look, I don’t mind films that try to combine gruesome violence and social satire into narratives that seek to comment on the outside world—a film like the new “Raw” does an astounding job of putting together feminist commentary and over-the-top gore into a film that is equally hilarious, horrifying and thought-provoking. “The Belko Experiment,” on the other hand, is utter bullshit from start to finish—it has nothing to say about anything and the way that it plays on our own fears regarding the epidemic of real-life office violence is more grotesque than it is provocative. I am sure that there are people out there who will claim that it is profound and delightfully outrageous satire and that I am just being too sensitive. If they dig it, I am happy for them, though I certainly would not want to sit next to any of them on the train home and listen to them justify it at length. Myself, I just came away from it feeling depressed and slightly unclean.
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