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Review – ‘The Belko Experiment’ Is an Anxiety-Packed Thrill Ride

By  · Published on September 17th, 2016

The Belko Experiment Is An Anxiety Packed Thrill Ride

James Gunn presents a cynical take on corporate America.

From the beautifully twisted mind of James Gunn comes The Belko Experiment. The movie focuses on a group of office schleps during the worst day of their lives. Part Battle Royale, part The Hunger Games, and part Cabin in the Woods, The Belko Experiment is an anxiety packed thrill ride tailor-made for midnight madness screenings. Director Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) packs his film with quirky characters, gruesome deaths, and a side order of social commentary, to create a fun, excellently paced action/horror/thriller.

Aside from an intense security check on the way to the office, everything appears to be business as usual for the Belko employees. They head to their offices and cubicles, they pour coffee, they mingle, they flirt, and some of them even do their jobs. When a voice comes booming over the PA system, dictating that the employees must kill two co-workers within 30-minutes, it’s taken as a prank. Before everyone can get their bearings, impenetrable steel sheets slide down over the windows and doors, barricading everyone in. It doesn’t take long for the people trapped inside the building to realize they’re literally in a fight for their lives. As the voice continues barking out life and death orders, the employees must each decide how far they’re willing to go to make it out of the Belko experiment alive.

By the end of the film, The Belko Experiment evolves into a bloody mess. The film’s gruesome theatricality wouldn’t be nearly as entertaining if not for its compelling cast of murder fodder. There are A LOT of deaths in this film and McLean takes the time to introduce us to a bunch of characters before they meet their demise. The goal here isn’t to write fully fleshed out characters with full arcs; that would be impossible. Instead, McLean works his way through the office, subtly and not so subtly revealing who these people are before they start dropping dead. There’s the geek, the gay dude, the new girl, the messed up divorcee, the everyman, the office creeper, and the stoner to name a few. Just taking a moment to sit with these people creates enough empathy for them to ramp up tension when they’re fighting to survive. There are also a few characters jockeying for final-girl status, so once the chaos begins, there is a feeling that anybody in the movie can bite it at any time.

First and foremost, The Belko Experiment is about thrills and kills. However, it also explores some interesting themes. The most obvious one being how far do we have to push someone to bring out the worst in them? Once it becomes evident to everyone that they must fight for their lives, they begin revealing their most base character traits. Some people run and hide, choosing to ignore events. One man quickly loses his grip on reality, reassuring himself with notions that the situation he’s in isn’t real. Most frightening are the people that root through the office kitchen in search of anything with a sharp edge. Over the course of the film, we see people go from Average Joe and Plain Jane to ruthless killing machines. The film strips these characters to their emotional core to reveal an unsettling truth: when it comes to committing unspeakable acts of violence, some need to be pushed over the edge while others only require a slight nudge.

One of the film’s most interesting characters is the office head honcho, company COO Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn). Through Barry, Gunn presents a scathing indictment of corporate ruthlessness. As the building descends into pandemonium, it’s Barry whose best suited to survive. When things start going off the rails, it’s Barry who takes control of the situation. Barry rounds everyone up and in his measured COO way of speaking and reassures them that things will be ok. At one point a man screams, “Get it off me,” while frantically washing his coworkers splattered brains out of his hair. McLean cuts the moment together with Barry, deep in thought, not even noticing dead bodies as he’s practically stepping over them.

Barry has a detached, calculating manner of weighing his options. He tallies up the odds of survival and makes decisions on who lives or dies without batting the eye. To Barry, it’s merely a numbers game. It’s the same sort of cut and dry decision making that goes into raising the price of lifesaving medications or not offering health benefits to veterans, all in the name of profit. You get the impression that even after all the murder, Barry could go home and not lose a wink of sleep. One common trait that many great villains share is that they don’t consider themselves bad guys/gals. Barry definitely fits into that camp.

Anyone that abhors violence needs to run in the other direction. The Belko Experiment is a complete gore fest. Anticipate hearing the wet mushy splatter of guts hitting the floor and the crunch of shattered skulls. McLean doesn’t hold back on the visuals either. The camera zooms in on bludgeonings and lingers on exploded heads. This is a film that revels in over the top brutality. If graphic, bloody, and visceral action is your thing, then Gunn and McLean have a real treat in store for you.

The Belko Experiment is pitch perfect midnight madness movie. Gunn’s flippant style combines with McLean’s horror film experience to create an audacious horror/thriller hybrid. The film hits the ground running, ratchets up the intensity, and reaches an exhilarating crescendo that is sure to please. Genre movie lovers are going to walk away certain they got the most for their money.

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