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‘The Belko Experiment’ (review)

Produced by James Gunn, Peter Safran
Written by James Gunn
Directed by Greg McLean
Starring: John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn,
John C. McGinley, Adria Arjona, Josh Brener,
Michael Rooker, Sean Gunn,
Abraham Benrubi, Melonie Diaz

 

I went into this movie simply knowing: a) it was written by James Gunn of Guardians of the Galaxy, b) the cast looked good, c) only the vaguest idea of the premise.

If you’ve seen the trailer, you realize it’s a nightmarish office lockdown in which the trapped workers realize they are going to have to kill or be killed.

Have a good day.

I walked out thinking I’d just seen “Battle Royale meets The Office,” before seeing that’s the exact pull-quote on the poster.

There’s no better way to sum it up, except to say that it was on par, for me, with last year’s excellent, but equally violent Green Room.

We first meet the mostly American workers at a Belko Corp. high-rise in the middle-of-nowhere in Bogotá, Colombia as they arrive for what seems like just another day at the office. But there are new security guards and a much lengthier-than-usual security line to get in. Once the workers arrive, they realize that none of the locals have shown up for the day, but shrug it off.

Among the office staff is John Gallagher Jr. (Hush, 10 Cloverfield Lane) as Mike, a less-than-focused employee who’s secretly dating Leandra (Adria Arjona), assistant to COO Barry (Tony Goldwyn). And we meet the office creep Wendell (John C. McGinley), who thinks because Leandra glances his way now and then, she’s in love with him. There’s also a new hire, Dany (Melonie Diaz), who’s just been set up with her own corporate apartment, car and tracking device in case of kidnappings (a frequent Columbian occurrence.) That’s an unpleasant possibility, but what happens is far, far worse.

Metal plates ominously shut off every door and window, cutting off every exit. Then a voice comes over the intercom and orders them to start killing each other or everyone dies.

At first everyone laughs it off as a joke. Or some sort of bizarre corporate “stress test.” Barry delivers a “let’s keep it together, folks” speech while Mike tries to convince him something very sinister is at work here. Cafeteria worker Marty (Sean Gunn, James’s brother), provides much of the comic relief as the guy who’s just going to get high and let it all blow over. Until he starts getting more paranoid than everyone else…

I won’t spoil who starts the killing spree (and it’s epic), but the situational ethics here, along with the rationale to kill, is worthy of any The Walking Dead episode. “Isn’t it better to just do what the voice says, as it will save lives in the long run?” is the prevailing argument, while Mike points out there’s no way that whoever’s in charge here will let any survivors live.

The sometimes scene-stopping music lends a surreal quality to the film that lifts it about the usual splatter flick. But if you’re looking for gore, the office-equipment kills should make you quite happy.

We might not get to know most of these characters for very long, but we root for the less bloodthirsty to survive and the disturbingly gung-ho killers to be taken down. Would a real-life situation play out differently? I’m guessing not by much.

The escalation of violence is perfectly paced and it’s a smart horror film that satirizes corporate and political doublespeak in an eerie, too-timely way. Euphemisms about keeping the guns “safe” by taking them away from the one security guard left are thrown around. The company’s world-building mottos are ironically displayed behind scenes of carnage. The metaphors write themselves.

I didn’t love Guardians of the Galaxy, which was ridiculously overhyped, so I don’t want to overhype this for you. But what can I say? I loved it.

As I left the screening room, the publicist looked kind of dazed.

“Are you okay?” I asked her.

“I think so,” she said. “It’s the first time I’ve seen it.”

 

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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