Tuesday , 28 March 2023

High rise demise in The Belko Experiment – review

“We are not going to entertain the option of killing people.”

What do you get when you take the inter-office politics, romances and friendships of, well, The Office, and interject the violence, viciousness and horror of Battle Royale? You get the latest venture from Blumhouse Tilt and Orion Pictures (yes, Orion, home of Platoon, Robocop and Silence of the Lambs is back in business), The Belko Experiment.

In Bogota, Colombia, Belko Industries maintains an office building off the beaten path. Here, Americans and Colombians go about their daily, seemingly inconsequential jobs. One day, the locals are mysteriously sent home and the remaining 80 employees are given a simple task. Kill two of your fellow workers in the next 30 minutes, or more will be killed. OK, maybe not so simple. Not sure what to make of this strange, anonymous announcement, the order is left unheeded, resulting in more than two being killed. (We won’t say how.) Realizing now that someone indeed means business, the survivors are next given an even more chilling demand to take out more of their officemates or else, well, you get the picture. With the building completely sealed off with steel doors and walls, and no communication with the outside world, some become more than willing to give termination slips to their coworkers in order to see their families and loved ones once again. The result is a ferocious bloodbath as friendships are tested and boundaries are erased.

The Belko Experiment is the brainchild of James Gunn (Slither, Super, Guardians of the Galaxy), who wrote the script several years ago, apparently from a dream, but held off directing it himself. That assignment has been given to Greg McLean, the Australian director best known for the Wolf Creek films and the excellent recent limited TV series, which continued the murderous exploits of those films’ outback killer, Mick Taylor. It seems the perfect match – Gunn’s penchant for twisted violence and humor mixed with McLean’s proclivity towards raw brutality. While the basic premise naturally draws comparisons to Japan’s carnage-filled shocker, Battle Royale (2000), where schoolmates were forced to turn on each other, placing the story in an enclosed setting rather than an open island adds an element of claustrophobia to the proceedings. While the resources at hand would appear initially to be somewhat limited, you’d be surprised at how many everyday, common objects can become lethal weapons of destruction, though McLean does maintain his fondness for headshots.

We have to be bold here….this isn’t the time for timidity.

Much of the cast will be quite familiar to movie and television audiences. John Gallagher Jr. (The Newsroom, 10 Cloverfield Lane) once again finds himself locked behind closed doors. Tony Goldwyn (Scandal) looks to out-Ghost his most famous role. Adria Arjona was recently seen as Dorothy in NBC’s series, Emerald City. John C. McGinley (Scrubs) trades Office Space for one more deadly. And Michael Rooker (Merle on The Walking Dead, Guardians), a favorite of Gunn’s, turns up as a maintenance man with a lot to repair.

While it might have been more interesting to mix up some of the casting choices so that who becomes more prone to violence was less obvious, there are a number of twists and turns, in who does what to whom, and how the ante is upped, to keep things interesting and not just one long bloodbath. However, there is plenty of blood and brain matter spilled, in a variety of brutal ways. The film does pose a compelling dilemma. How fast would you turn on friends or coworkers if it meant your only means of survival? While many of us have worked in situations where we compete with one another for other positions or promotions, what are we willing to do to get ahead? When does self-interest trump (hate using that word) friendship and loyalty? Taking those inter-office politics to the nth degree and turning it into a sheer battle for survival is what The Belko Experiment is all about. Instead of worrying about being fired, you fear being fired upon by those you worked side-by-side with. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, or in the case of The Belko Experiment, kill or be killed. Job well done.

— review by Brian de Castro