The Horror Show

Facebook Twitter Google

The Belko Experiment
by Greg McLean

It can be a special thing when two talents join forces to helm a project. I've been a fan of James Gunn for most of my life. He's one of the few people I'll be hipster about and say “I knew him before” most in the mainstream became aware. I love the work he's done as of late, including Guardians of the Galaxy which has made him a household name. But I first took note years ago with his work in Troma. His screenplay for Lloyd Kaufman-directed cult classicTromeo & Juliet made me respect him as a writer and his continued films such as Slither and Super cemented my respect in him as a director.

Greg McLean came into my consciousness with his phenomenal 2005 film Wolf Creek. Its equally impressive sequel (which is now accompanied by a web series) led me to see him as a director to keep my eye on. The man knows how to make highly effective, violent films that are every bit as thrilling as they are visceral and unsettling.

When I heard that a film was in the works with McLean directing off of Gunn's screenplay, I was 100% on board. Then the film came out and I watched it. That film is The Belko Experiment and it is amazing.

The Belko Experiment begins with a handful of office workers heading into their workplace located in Columbia. Belko Industries is a somewhat nondescript company and the office building is a bit off the radar, largely disconnected from other structures and people in the area. The employees find themselves concerned as there are armed guards checking ID on this particular day before any of them can enter the building. This confusion is intensified by the fact that all locals are being sent home, leaving only the workers who are not Colombian Nationals to stick around.

At first, however, they mostly just all brush it off and we get to meet the various characters. They're all unique and quirky and I enjoyed that element. I found that it makes the movie fun right from the start. Rather than go the route of having everyone be as mundane and ordinary as possible to sell the “everyday office vibe,” everybody is entertaining to watch and get to know.

There's Mike (John Gallagher Jr.), a nice enough guy who seems to get along with his coworkers. He is romantically involved with fellow Belko office staffer Leandra (Adria Arjona) who keeps trying to avoid the glances of off-putting employee Wendell (John C. McGinley). There's new hire Dany (Melonie Diaz) as well as company COO Barry (Tony Goldwyn). We meet Lonny (David Dastmalchian) and Bud (Michael Rooker) the workers on the more mechanical side of things down below. They are all joined by many others that I will delve a bit more into later.

Before anyone can get too much work done, a mysterious voice sounds on an intercom informing the group of the event in which they are about to partake. This will be an experiment that involves the workers killing each other or else risking an even higher body count at the hands of the captors. At first, it's thought of as a joke, but when metal walls shut down the office, trapping everyone inside, it becomes clear that this is something more serious than a prank.

While everyone tries to hold it together, tensions start to grow and lines in the sand begin to form. Some workers, especially Mike, want to completely rule out the idea of actually killing each other, demanding they stay civilized. Others, however, want to weigh the other option as well. This is especially true in Barry who seems to carry a hint that he isn't quite ready to give up authority just because this isn't a typical work day. Also of this ilk is Wendell, who looks like he's been wanting to take a cleaver to someone for quite some time.

Throw in good natured security guard Evan (James Earl) with a set of keys to an entire stockade of weaponry and you find yourself with a high-octane good time. The Belko Experiment slashes, stabs, shoots, crushes and sets ablaze its path and each gleeful moment is another slope on an increasingly exhilarating roller coaster. The film makes good use of the office setting and never feels repetitive or like it's run out of ideas of how to keep the concept fresh and moving.

While there are reprehensible characters as well as those who are easy to root for, the film is never a clear-cut example of right and wrong. Everyone is trying to survive this completely unforeseen set of intensely harsh circumstances and they all have their own thoughts on how to go about that. Everyone is flawed in their own way, just to different degrees and in differing ways.

Everything boils down to the bloody act of self-defense that is the experiment itself. Although some may be getting more satisfaction from getting to kill than others. One second I found myself fully aware of the characters that I was most looking forward to seeing biting the dust. However, the next second, another more likable character will have their attempt at decency blow up in their face. This is no longer a civilized society, these are animals in the jungle. This is kill or be killed.

All the acting is fantastic and everyone sells their roles wonderfully. It's not cut and dry and so all characters have to have a certain layering in their personalities. Being a fan of Gunn, it was great to see some familiar faces of his films pop up. This includes Michael Rooker as a maintenance worker as well as Gunn's talented brother Sean Gunn playing a character named Marty who offers some much needed comic relief. He balances this without ever getting too distanced from the immensely serious event at hand. John C. McGinley is also very much of note as any role you've previously seen him in won't prepare you for his memorable performance.

The Belko Experiment avoids going in familiar directions and I felt myself genuinely unsure as to what was coming next. No character feels safe at any time no matter who you think will make it to the end. It's a large canvas splattered with style, emotion and true substance. It balances the comedic with the serious skillfully and never lets those elements clash in any way that would contaminate the overall mood.

In the end, I highly recommend The Belko Experiment. It doesn't water itself down to gain approval from mainstream, casual viewers and instead presents itself as an “all in” electrifying experience. It is not only suspenseful and action-packed, but true horror when you get right down to it. Some may have noted the mixed response out the gate from a lot of critics and audience members alike. However, I want all fans who dig the same kinds of flicks I do, who have somewhat of an idea of what type of “no holds barred” experience they are in for to know this: that response is because the film is polarizing not because it is in any way mediocre. It's a take-no-prisoners run for the door that left me completely satisfied.

P.J. Griffin, HMS

The Horror Show Menu.