‘Mayhem’ Review: Shit May Roll Downhill, But Blood Spurts Upward

Office violence isn’t fun, but it can occasionally be entertaining.

The idea of having a good time with violent movies is anathema to some people, and it’s an understandable reaction, especially for those who’ve experienced it in real life. Shoot ’em ups and martial arts brawls are typically safe as most of us will never find ourselves engaged in either, but workplace violence is a whole other beast. From individual harassment to murderous actions committed by disgruntled employees, it can be hard for some viewers to see movies about it as entertainment. Viewers who can stomach office brutality have their choice of dark gems like Office or tonal misfires like The Belko Experiment, but the newest entry into the sub-genre may actually find the broadest appreciation as it leans heavily into comic absurdity.

Derek Cho (Steven Yeun) works for a mechanically soulless corporate law firm, and his rise from utter nobody to senior nobody has left both friends and foes in his wake. His claim to fame was in discovering a legal loophole that allowed a murderer to escape punishment — a man-made, emotion-heightening virus was to blame, not the assailant himself — and that achievement comes back to bite him in the ass when an outbreak of the same virus occurs in the office. The CDC (or its equivalent) seals off the building to wait out the virus’ time-limited effects leaving the employees within to fend for themselves as co-workers see their emotions — lust, sadness, rage — magnified to extremes.

It’s not just a lazy free-for-all though [cough] Belko [cough] as Derek is fighting through the carnage with a purpose beyond mere survival. He’s hoping to help the law firm’s latest victim, Melanie (Samara Weaving), who’s losing her property to the bank thanks to heartless legal shenanigans, and he’s also after some payback to the executives above (both position-wise and literally in the high-rise tower) who screwed him out of a job earlier in the day.

Mayhem fuses office politics, bloody violence, and pure silliness into a fun little romp that’s ultimately as entertaining as it is forgettable. That sounds like a knock, but it’s honestly not — it’s a mindless good time. Like director Joe Lynch‘s previous film, Everly, it knows the secret to a one-note action movie is creative, frequent violence, a dash of wit, and brevity.

Matias Caruso‘s script has fun with interpersonal relationships, workplace jargon, and the hierarchy every corporate-employed worker knows and despises. Different levels of management, inconsistent responsibilities, and even others touching your shit in the shared kitchen all come under fire, and they remain a part of the narrative that sees Derek and Melanie working their way up to those who hold the real power. At under ninety minutes it’s a fast climb to the top with more than enough violence and humor to hold your attention. Lynch directs with an energetic zeal that spills over into the camerawork putting viewers right in the middle of the playful brutality.

The film’s big issue, though, and what keeps it from stretching beyond being merely okay, is Derek’s narration. His incessant, unfunny, and unnecessary narration. The character dynamics are evident in their various actions, but we’re still subjected to him explaining everything from plot to motivations. The humor is present in both performances and dialogue, but we’re stuck listening to him introduce and describe characters with jokes and asides that just fall flat. I haven’t verified this, but there’s a chance he speaks more as narration than he does onscreen as dialogue. It’s a distraction that never goes away, and it even sinks the film’s ending with a simplistic moral summation.

Happily, what’s happening onscreen fares better, and chief among them is Weaving’s performance as a pissed-off woman ready to tear down corporate America. The cast is fine throughout, and Yeun holds his own as a lead, but Weaving blows them all away (sometimes literally) with a deadly mix of charm, attitude, and confidence. She displayed similar chops in the recent Netflix original, The Babysitter, and she’s quickly become a valuable addition to the action/horror/comedy field.

Mayhem stumbles with the narration, but the rest of the film delivers enough laughs and choreographed carnage across its 86 minutes to warrant a watch for fans of cartoon violence and everyday underdogs.

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