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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Belko Experiment (2016)

I’m a big fan of the movie Mayhem so when I heard that there was another workplace Battle Royale style flick out there, I was very interested. Though this one predates the latter by a year, so I was a bit concerned why I hadn’t heard of it before. This was reinforced when I heard some of my friends say that Mayhem is the movie that they wanted this one to be. I found the Blu-Ray on sale and picked it up, but it sat in my to watch pile for a couple of years. In an effort to get that stack smaller I thought it was time to check it out.

The movie is set in Bogotá Columbia in an office building housing the Belko company. They find jobs for Americans in foreign countries or something like that. The viewer quickly finds out that this is a cover for setting up a situation where the trap a bunch of normal people in a situation where they have to kill one another off to survive. Not only are they stuck in a locked down building but the tracking devices that were implanted in the workers in case they are kidnapped, a thing that can happen in foreign countries, also serve as an explosive incentive to participate. Don’t comply with the orders and you go “pop”. It only takes a couple of people dying for the “alpha” males to team up and begin deciding who dies and who lives. This leads to them herding everyone into the lobby and asking questions about ages and who has kids. Things quickly get bloody.

I liked this movie. It comes off as pretty brutal as we get executions and bursts of violence that aren’t couched in humor. This isn’t the kind of movie where you are going to get one-liners to lessen the disturbing stuff on screen. The filmmakers take the time to give us characters that we can relate to and in many cases really like and root for. Be warned though you shouldn’t get attached as many if not most are done away with in horrible ways. The plot device of the bombs in their heads is also used to create some tension as more than once we are treated to them staring at one another wondering whose head is going to explode because they didn’t follow some order that was given. This gives depth to the proceedings and helps carry what could have been slow stretches of the story.

The violence is interesting with both improvised weapons as well as a batch of handguns being used by the office drones to thin their numbers. Some of the highlights are an axe to the face, firebombs, and death by elevator. Though my personal favorite is a wrench to the face that leaves a dent but doesn’t kill the character right away. His confusion as to what just happened is disturbing and I think an accurate portrayal of such injuries.

The cast is excellent and features familiar faces like Tony Goldwyn, Jon C. McGinley, Gregg Henry, and the always awesome Michael Rooker. McGinley is fantastically twisted as the creepy (even before the murders) co-worker who makes some unwelcome advances towards a co-worker. Rooker is equally memorable in the much smaller role of the wrench to the face victim. The movie is written but not directed by James Gunn so seeing alums of Slither, Henry and Rooker, in this one was a welcome surprise.

If I have a complaint about The Belko Experiment, it is the ending. We get some nonsense about the company studying human behavior as the excuse for murdering over eighty people. We also get a reveal that other experiments are happening and there are a lot more victims. This reveal felt like a letdown, especially after seeing most of our favorite characters kill each other. I’d almost rather they not have explained anything at all and left it vague.

I can see why people liked Mayhem better. It has a much more satisfying ending and the kills and violence are more stylized and less disturbing which makes it more fun to watch. Hell, I like that movie better than this one. But that doesn’t mean The Belko Experiment isn’t work a look. It is a solid bit of modern horror that happens in a frighteningly familiar setting with realistic violence that can be uncomfortable. I’d recommend giving it a watch.

Ó Copyright 2020 John Shatzer

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