Genre favorite Joe Lynch gives corporate culture a double middle finger with his most recent project, Mayhem, an action-fueled social satire that ambitiously provides viewers with a wish fulfillment scenario: what if you had a free pass to act out your wildest, most perverse urges, simply because you no longer had any control over your own impulses? In this scenario, Lynch goes for broke and then some, as Mayhem is truly his most ambitious effort to date, offering up a ridiculously fun Thunderdome-esque situation where chaos ensues and nothing is off limits.
Written by Matias Caruso, Mayhem introduces us to the ID7 Virus, a pathogen that does an emotional hijacking on its hosts, where their id is left uninhibited, and they can’t help but go absolutely nuts. Sometimes ID7 results in two people going at it like dogs in heat on a conference room table, and sometimes it causes people to beat the crap out of others until they pummel the life out of their victims. Before the government and medical professionals knew how to treat the infection, a man by the name of Neville Reed was tried for murder while under the “influence” of ID7, but was ultimately acquitted, setting a precedent where anyone afflicted by the virus isn’t accountable for their actions.
And the legal geniuses behind it all? Towers & Smythe Consulting, the firm where go-getter Derek Cho (Steven Yeun) is employed. Derek’s been working his way up the company ladder over the years, transforming from a fresh-faced man filled with hopes and dreams to a selfish and soulless corporate parasite, or as Yeun’s character so amply puts it at one point, “A douche with a conscious.” But for as hard as he has worked, Derek learns that corporate corruption will always come around and bite you in the ass, especially when your company needs an innocent patsy to take the fall.
As Derek decides to take his grievances to those in charge at Towers & Smythe, ID7 rears its ugly head, and the building goes on lockdown for eight hours, until the vaccine that has been pumped through the air ducts can take effect and render the virus powerless. In the meantime, all hell breaks loose throughout the office, with everyone affected just going balls-out insane as they are unable to control their actions, resulting in total (wait for it) Mayhem.
While there’s no doubt that Lynch’s latest will have fans drawing some parallels to the equally fantastic The Belko Experiment, Mayhem is truly its own unique brand of madcap insanity, with Caruso’s script going more with an escapism route than just setting people up to be endlessly slaughtered. Mayhem becomes the audience’s own version of ultimate voyeurism, living out all of our dark fantasies that we might have but are unable to act upon due to our own well-functioning moral compasses.
The brutal actioner features tons of blood-soaked pandemonium throughout its nearly 90-minute running time, and Mayhem offers up a variety of badass and clever kills that will undoubtedly leave horror fans cheering (it’s always fun to see a buzz saw get thrown into the mix!).
With the energy that Lynch infuses into the film, Mayhem becomes something more than just pitting people against each other for our own nihilistic viewing pleasure. In its own way, despite all its wonderful insanity, the film has a great message that’s a call to arms for anyone who feels like they need something more in their lives than just an empty profession that chips away at their soul each and every day that they walk into their respective offices.
And a big part of why that message in Mayhem works so effectively is due to Yeun’s performance as Derek, a guy who we understand and empathize with, even early on in the film when his character is being a complete jerk-off to Samara Weaving’s character, Melanie, who comes to his firm in hopes of staving off a foreclosure notice. When ID7 takes over, though, and the duo are forced to work together to fight their respective injustices, both Weaving and Yeun are just downright fantastic together, with a palpable sense of chemistry shared between them.
But even though they work great together as a deadly duo, each of the actors are given plenty of opportunities to shine on their own. Weaving, someone I had only really known from her role on the first season of Ash vs Evil Dead (she played a character named Heather, which is why I’m guessing it stuck with me as much as it did), delivers an absolute breakout performance in Mayhem, with Melanie being the kind of gal you want to go and grab a few beers with. For Yeun, it’s no secret that he has already found much success on The Walking Dead with its legions of loyal fans, but I hope that with Mayhem, people recognize he can absolutely lead a feature film, too, because he’s so great and Lynch gives him a lot of room to move around with his complex and wholly engaging character.
As far as the rest of the cast, Lynch really picked some knock-out performers, particularly Steven Brand as Derek’s off-kilter and domineering boss (who you don’t want to catch on his “drawing day”), Caroline Chikezie as Derek’s nemesis, The Siren, and Dallas Roberts as The Reaper (aka Human Resources), who nearly steals every single scene he appears in. Lynch also gets a cameo in Mayhem, too, with his own nod to every single IT guy out there who has to put up with the idiocy of others.
With its infectious energy, ambitious story and effects, and a frenetic and frenzied pace, Mayhem is a wickedly fun survivalist horror action hybrid that takes on office politics with an assured sense of precision and wit. It’s a confidently made film from Lynch, who delivers an experience that is equal parts bold social satire and brutal, balls-to-the-wall cinematic anarchy.
Movie Score: 4/5
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