Directed By: Greg McLean
Release Date: March 17, 2017
Starring: John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Adria Arjona, Melonie Diaz
Imagine going to work one day only to find yourself trapped inside with all your fellow coworkers, with no way out and a seemingly-omniscient voice speaking to you all on the intercom with a simple mandate: Two of you must be killed or others will die. For the 80 multinational employees working at the Colombian branch of Belko Industries, this is exactly their day, and what initially seems like little more than an elaborate prank ultimately reveals itself to be something far more sinister, as the mysterious voice's increasingly twisted requirements and machinations breed paranoia that sends many spiraling into madness with the sole desire to survive no matter the cost.
This is the basis for The Belko Experiment, which has been delivered to the world by director Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) from a script by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, Slither, Super). Were you to take elements of films like Saw, The Mist, and Battle Royale, with a little dash of Cabin in the Woods thrown in for good measure, and mix it all in one big cinematic blender, the result would be The Belko Experiment, a film that definitely lives up to its premise while simultaneously stumbling to bring that little extra something to the table that could've made it truly satisfying.
The film is populated by a game cast that includes John Gallagher Jr., Adria Arjona, Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, familiar Gunn veterans like his brother, Sean, and Michael Rooker, and many more, but the focus is spread so thin across all of them that there really is no chance for deep characterization. Gallagher's Mike is the decent guy trying to find a way to do the right thing. Arjona's Leandra is his girlfriend. Goldwyn's Barry, everyone's boss, views all of them as expendable when they don't suit his needs anymore. McGinley's Wendell is the office creep. And so on. Of course, some actors shine brighter than others - McGinley, for instance, does play a good creep - but ultimately everyone is left to fend for themselves with what little they've been given, much like the actual characters they're playing, the end result being that when bodies start dropping, it's hard to really care about the fate of most of the group.
Even further, the paper thin characterization actually only goes to hammer home a sense of predictability about the entire affair. It doesn't take long before you can start figuring out who's going to make it to the final act or not based on how much screentime they're getting, and save a decent twist on a standard horror trope involving a character who spends much of the film in hiding, there's nothing about the story that really plays out in an unexpected way, which is pretty disappointing, especially when Gunn has more than proven he can subvert certain genre expectations in the past with his stories.
When the proverbial shit begins to hit the fan, blood is generously spilled, but there's also a prevailing sense that even the very unique setting itself isn't being used to its full potential. Guns find their way into the mix pretty quickly, and outside of an effective moment involving a tape dispenser, there aren't that many office equipment-related deaths. Tonally, the film takes itself pretty seriously, with only brief moments of dark humor, and perhaps it's that very seriousness that held back everyone involved from just going nuts with the opportunities the setting provided and allowing for truly creative and memorable deaths. No one gets their face pressed against a photocopier's glass and gets scanned as their head is being bashed in by the door while the machine prints out the images, for instance, which would've been something more unique - no matter how goofy it sounds - than seeing someone get shot for the dozenth time.
As such, all The Belko Experiment has to offer in the end depends on how much you want out of its premise. If all you care about is seeing people trapped in an office building forced to kill each other as you wonder what you'd personally do in their situation, you'll get your money's worth, but with those involved, I personally was expecting more out of it. The possibility of a more interesting sequel is dangled before us, and there's some fun to be had - if you look for it - in its loose statement on corporate America, but outside of a few moments of genuine tension, the film is somewhat undone thanks to its refusal to truly unleash its potential. I enjoyed watching it, sure, but at the end of the day, it needed to be a lot more for me to say that it'll stick with me as something I’d want to revisit for years to come.
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