The Belko Experiment (2017) Orion/Horror-Thriller RT: 88 minutes Rated R (strong bloody violence throughout, language, sexual references, some drug use) Director: Greg McLean Screenplay: James Gunn Music: Tyler Bates Cinematography: Luis David Sansas Release date: March 17, 2017 (US) Cast: John Gallagher Jr, Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Owain Yeoman, Sean Gunn, Brent Sexton, Josh Brener, David Dastmalchian, David Del Rio, Michael Rooker, Gregg Henry, Rusty Schwimmer, Gail Bean, James Earl, Abraham Benrubi, Valentine Miele, Stephen Blackehart, Benjamin Byron Davis, Silvia De Dios, Cindy Better, Andres Suarez, Lorena Tobar, Joe Fria.
The Belko Experiment isn’t a movie, it’s a blood bath. People are shot, stabbed, impaled, chopped, burned and bludgeoned. Plus, many people get the backs of their heads blown off by small devices implanted by their employer. Director Greg McLean (Wolf Creek, The Darkness) doesn’t shy away from showing us the gory details either. This movie is neck-deep in blood. It’s easily the goriest mainstream movie since 2014’s Sabotage (the Arnold Schwarzenegger bomb). The body count has to be over 80. It’s a full-fledged splatter flick! You all know that I consider myself a serious moviegoer who often bemoans the lack of diversity in the movies offered up at multiplexes. The Belko Experiment is a throwback to the cheap exploitation movies of the 80s in that its raison d’etat is violence and gore. It’s like a slasher film in which the homicidal maniac wears a shirt and tie instead of a mask. In this case, there are multiple homicidal maniacs. It’s the kind of movie I used to love and still do. I’m not ashamed to admit it; I LOVE a good blood bath.
If I was to sum up the plot of The Belko Experiment in a single phrase, I’d say it’s Office Space meets Battle Royale. I might also say it’s Die Hard meets The Purge. Either way, it’s one crazy-ass movie! It doesn’t start out an ordinary day for the employees of the Belko Corporation. The new security guards at the gate aren’t very friendly. They check IDs and search cars. All the non-American employees get turned away. It’s strange but everybody goes about their day; it’s business as usual. What kind of business I can’t say for sure. The company (located in Bogota, Colombia) facilitates the transfer of Americans to foreign companies or some such thing. It doesn’t matter though because the work day is about get weird, fatally so.
A voice comes over the intercom and announces that they have 30 minutes to kill two of their own or else six will die in their place. The building is then sealed by armored shutters and the phone lines are cut. To prove a point, their captor (or captors) triggers a few of the “tracking devices” that have been surgically implanted at the base of every Belko employee in case of kidnapping, a frequent occurrence in Colombia. It turns out that the tracking devices are really explosives. D’OH! Of course, attempting to remove said device is considered an infraction of the rules and will result in termination (the permanent kind) of the violator. The voice comes back on later and raises the ante, informing the freaked-out employees that they now have two hours to kill 30 of their own choosing.
The voice of reason in this mess is Mike (Gallagher, 10 Cloverfield Lane), a level-headed kind of guy who thinks they all need to work together to come up with a solution to their current dilemma. The company CEO, Barry (Goldwyn, Ghost), starts off as a caring boss but soon turns into a megalomaniac who wants access to the company armory, ostensibly to hold the weapons for “safe-keeping” (yeah, sure). Other characters include Leandra (Arjona, Emerald City), Mike’s not-so-secret girlfriend; Wendell (McGinley, 1991’s Point Break), the office creep who’s always ogling Leandra; geeky tech worker Keith (Brener, The Internship); head of maintenance Bud (Rooker, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer); security guard Evan (Earl, Scream Queens); Marty (Gunn, The Hive), a goofy stoner convinced they’ve all been drugged by the company and first-day employee Dany (Diaz, Fruitvale Station) who spends most of the time hiding in the basement.
It’s no secret that most of the characters will end up dead by the time the end credits rolls. The voice tells them that only one of them will leave the building alive. It’s also no secret that the situation is a social experiment being conducted by shady types. Hell, the word “experiment” is in the title. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the identity of the sole survivor. The Belko Experiment is fairly predictable. None of that really matters. It’s all about the violence and gore. It delivers on both counts and then some.
Now it’s time to play devil’s advocate. While I like The Belko Experiment as is, I can’t help but consider the missed satirical opportunities. McLean had a chance to make a dark satire about the corporate world and the cutthroat mentality that comes with it. I’m talking about workers who are seemingly kind and genial until the opportunity to get ahead presents itself and they stab their co-workers in the back to get there. Offices are filled with specific types, many of which are depicted in The Belko Experiment. All of this makes an ideal target for mockery and send-up. I suppose it could be argued that The Belko Experiment is darkly funny and it is to a point. Mostly, it’s a splatter flick.
What can I say about the acting? The performances are exactly what the movie deserves, a lot of broad character types whose main function is lining up for the slaughter. McGinley makes a great office sleaze-turned-psycho. He’s a guy with “sexual harassment lawsuit” written all over him. Goldwyn excels at playing villains. Gallagher is a good leading man. Arjona is easy on the eyes. Diaz is good but I wish her character had shown more bad-assery.
The Belko Experiment is written by James Gunn, best known for 2014’s campy superhero flick Guardians of the Galaxy. He also directed the horror-comedy Slither (2006) and the violent superhero send-up Super (2011). Both have since become cult movies. I think The Belko Experiment has the same fate in store. I doubt it will be a box office smash but I predict it will find its audience via DVD and online streaming. I hope they release an unrated version; there’s no such thing as too much gore. This is my inner gorehound speaking. As a professional film critic, I’d say that The Belko Experiment is a good movie.