Starring John Gallagher, Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley, Josh Brener, Michael Rooker, Sean Gunn, Melonie Diaz
Directed by Greg McLean
Like a crazy crisscross of the real-life Milgram psychological study, the comedy Office Space, and the horror film Battle Royale, The Belko Experiment features an ensemble cast of hapless office employees who must fight to the death in order to survive.
In this gleefully mean-spirited spectacle of shock and awe, we meet – and in some cases, soon say goodbye to – a stellar ensemble cast of characters dreamed up by screenwriter James Gunn (Guardians of Galaxy) and director Greg McLean (Wolf Creek). They all toil daily behind the fortress-like walls of soulless Belko Corp., a “nonprofit organization that facilitates American companies in South America in the hiring of American workers.” The crew on hand includes hardnosed COO Barry (Tony Goldwyn), middle-manager Mike Milch (John Gallagher, Jr.), his soon-to-be divorced girlfriend Leandra (Adria Arjona), paranoid pothead Marty (Sean Gunn), resident sexual-harasser Wendell (John C. McGinley), and no-nonsense security guard Evan (James Earl), to name just a few. (In a flick this gory, you need a lot of cannon-fodder.)
As a typical workday is underway, something very disconcerting happens: All the windows and doors are sealed shut in dramatic fashion. A steely voice over an intercom informs them: “In eight hours, most of you will be dead,” and goes on to say that survival is possible only for those who follow the rules of the game that has now commenced. The first rule is that those present must kill two of their coworkers within thirty minutes, “or else.” Unknown instigators are watching the captives’ every move via a network of hidden cameras, so it’s useless to even try escaping. Those to make the attempt are punished most mercilessly. As the moments turn into hours, once-easygoing employees turn into a cache of coldblooded killers.
As fans, we get what we expect from these two proven genre filmmakers: razor-sharp comedy from Gunn, and a slew of slaughter from McLean. It’s an easy alliance, making for a film that zips by faster than a cubicle drone’s lunch-hour. There are lots of clever little winks (the song “I Will Survive” en español) throughout, with no shortage of shocking deaths (heads don’t just roll, they explode). With its sociopolitical microscope, but sans the giggles and gore, The Belko Experiment could be an extended episode of “Black Mirror.”
There’s an interesting cross-section of codes of morality and rationale from the various unwilling participants in the experiment, proving plenty of food for thought and a few things to discuss with friends (and coworkers) after the end credits fade. (Speaking of endings, this one left me somewhat dissatisfied, but… I can’t think of a better one.)