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Working in an office building can really cause you to lose your mind. The Belko Experiment is a film that works on a unique idea but is ultimately conventional in its execution. Written by James Gunn (writer-director of Guardians of the Galaxy) and directed by Greg McLean (Wolf Creek, The Darkness) , the film features plenty of bloody moments and the occasional comedy, but something lacks. Little, unfortunately, is displayed on terms of character development or even a fully realized and cohesive plot.
The story takes place in Bogota, Colombia, and begins as employees of Belko Industries are reporting for work. All we know is that it is a not-for-profit organization with ties to government. This strange day begins ominously – the security guards are different and all the locals who work for the company are being turned away, only leaving eighty Americans remaining inside the building. People inside the building go about their business as usual until a voice (Gregg Henry) announces that people will have to killed in a certain amount of time. Further, if this demand is not met many more will die. Sounds like a joke right? That’s what the employees think, at least at first. That is until people start dying as heads start exploding and blood start to gush.
For further Belko intrigue, the employees are implanted with a tracking device – in the event they are ever kidnapped as justification. (Sounds rather morbid.) Only thing is that the tracking devices are actually explosives that kill the employee immediately once they are activated by a switch by the mysterious gamesman calling the shots. A little while later, the voice returns over the intercom system informing everyone that thirty people need to die within two hours and if this is not accomplished, sixty will be killed, as the “experiment” continues. Oh and did I forget to mention, the entire building has metal that can’t be burned with a blowtorch so any means of escape are impossible including the roof which the security guards outside watch closely with their assault rifles at the ready in case someone gets an idea.
We follow Mike Milch (John Gallagher Jr.), who gives a noteworthy performance, as he questions the idea of killing people by proposing to hang signs on the outside of the building so that someone can call for help since all phone lines and cell phone service is unavailable. We have Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn), who is the Chief Operating Officer of Belko Industries. He is ready to kill and protect himself; he doesn’t oppose killing people in order to save the rest of the group. It’s a tough choice to make, but for Barry, it’s essentially common-sense to listen to the voice commanding everyone to kill someone. Among the group we also have Mike’s girlfriend Leandra (Adria Arjona), Wendell (John C. McGinley), a socially awkward misfit who isn’t afraid to shoot or even stab someone just to save himself. For the comic relief we have Marty (Sean Gunn) who works in the cafeteria of Belko, pot-fueled and convinced that someone is just playing a cruel joke – there is even one scene where he believes the water is making people act the way they are. He also sees people heads explode when the tracking devices are activated to explode in which he replies, “I’m just imagining this.” It’s funny and something that was unexpected.
While there’s not much in regards to plot, you can already guess by now that the body count rises pretty fast. From shootings, stabbings, to savage beatings, McLean doesn’t shy away from giving us gory moments. What’s sporadically fascinating about the film is studying what the characters do and why. From Barry and Wendell defining humanity at its most stark and savage in a moment of terror contrasted to Mike’s idealistic yearn for coalition and civility. In some modes, The Belko Experiment – for it’s immorality and unpleasantness – may read as blatantly topical and of the moment.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
Despite the brutal and gory violence and despite the film’s simple story and derivative craftsmanship, it’s not a bad guilty pleasure. The comedy aspects of the film were quite a surprise as was the top drawer performances. All the actors do a good job and try to do something with their characters – unfortunately the script wasn’t fully fleshed out enough. Gunn has written clever scripts before, but with The Belko Experiment, one may wonder the point in the end. Was this some attempt to top Battle Royale? Or was it simply a cheesy-horror hybrid break in between Marvel tours? There is a nugget of an idea that could’ve made The Belko Experiement more unique and satisfying, surely. Instead, we get a film that soaks the screen with blood and corpses.