Anyone who has spent countless hours stuck in a cubicle under fluorescent lighting, listening to their fellow employees prattle on about nonsense will find a lot to relate to in Greg McLean’s The Belko Experiment, which takes the notion of office politics to explosive and viciously entertaining levels where no one is safe. The amount of carnage that McLean and writer James Gunn unleash in The Belko Experiment is jaw-dropping at times, and even if you’ve never been subjected to the horrors of corporate America, there’s still a lot of subversive fun to be had once the games begin and heads start popping.
In The Belko Experiment, John Gallagher Jr. (Hush, Short Term 12, 10 Cloverfield Lane) stars as Mike Milch, an employee of Belko Industries who has relocated to Bogotá, Columbia, and while he recognizes he’s just another cog in the wheel at his workplace, he’s relatively happy with his job and looks forward to seeing his love interest, fellow co-worker Leandra (Adria Arjona), who gives him something to look forward to beyond the doldrums of office life. But one particular day, all local employees of Belko are sent home, leaving only the company’s transplanted workers left inside the building. Things seem to be like every other day at Belko, until a voice over the intercom informs them that they have to kill two of their colleagues in 30 minutes, and if they don’t, four will be randomly killed instead.
Most Belko associates shrug off the announcement as a joke, but when the building’s windows are shuttered and four people’s heads go SPLAT!, suddenly Mike and everyone else trapped inside the structure realize just how serious the threat is, and that they’re all about to embark on a deadly game of “kill or be killed” that will push their moral codes into some very uncomfortable places, whether they want to play or not.
With their tongues firmly planted within their horror-loving cheeks, it’s evident within the first 20 minutes of The Belko Experiment that neither McLean nor Gunn are messing around with their overly violent exploration of social paranoia and workplace survival. As the deadly tests of fortitude roll on, The Belko Experiment keeps its story firmly grounded in an unsettling realm of reality—the reason everyone’s heads can explode at any given moment is due to the tracking devices the company implanted in everyone upon their arrival in Columbia, and those watching the happenings inside the Belko building have placed cameras in every conceivable nook and cranny, allowing them to keep tabs on their “lab rats” to make sure they’re all following orders. Employees who think they can escape are met with armed guards who make sure everyone stays put inside the office for the entirety of the experiment.
Throughout McLean and Gunn’s twisted examination of the human condition, we watch as factions begin to build, with the scariest group of the bunch led by Belko COO and former military man Barry Norris (played by Tony Goldwyn), and rounded out by office creeper Wendell Dukes (the always brilliant John C. McGinley) and “Yes Man” Terry Winter (Owain Yeoman), who take it upon themselves to deem which of the employees should be spared, and which ones are easily expendable (there’s a harrowing execution scene that is so damn heartbreaking and uncomfortable to watch, so kudos to both McLean and Gunn for not ever once shying away from the brutality of what they’ve devised here).
Milch becomes something of an adversary to Belko’s higher-ups, particularly when he tries to thwart their efforts to bring guns into the mix, deciding he would rather try and help his fellow employees survive the onslaught than outright kill them and better his own odds of survival. His idealism makes Gallagher Jr.’s character instantaneously likeable and an engaging hero to follow in The Belko Experiment, but while his idyllic approach may be admirable, it ultimately means nothing when you have no other choice but to take someone’s life if it means saving your own (or even saving someone you care deeply about).
As far as the film’s tone, Gunn does a brilliant job of blending horror and comedy in his wildly clever script (something he’s done successfully in the past as well), and beyond the fact that we get an endless barrage of gleefully gory moments that nearly puts the audacious landmark effects from Scanners to shame, Gunn also crafts a story that has real ticks of emotion, giving those moments of violence some depth that will stick with viewers long after the credits roll.
McLean, the madman behind Wolf Creek and its sequel (as well as the highly underrated Rogue) bounces back after last year’s tepid thriller The Darkness, and I do hope Belko finds an audience so that he gets more opportunities like this one to cut loose as a director. Off-the-leash McLean is my favorite McLean, and The Belko Experiment is easily his most ambitious and confident directorial outing to date.
A brutally savage and often nihilistic examination of just how far people will go to survive, The Belko Experiment is one of the most shockingly violent major genre releases to hit theaters in quite some time, and is a brilliant social satire that’s not afraid to go for the jugular. In just two and a half months, 2017 has already established itself as a truly great year for our beloved genre, and The Belko Experiment is yet another incredible entry into the mix, making it essential viewing for all horror fans.
Movie Score: 4/5