The Belko Experiment – movie review

In The Belko Experiment, the Belko of the title is a US non-profit organisation based in Bogota in Colombia. It works to facilitate American businesses wanting to operate in South America. One day though an unusually high level of security appears around the high-rise office building. As the employees go about their business, a wall of steel shutters surrounds the building. A mysterious voice suddenly comes over the PA system and informs the staff that there are 80 people inside. They have thirty minutes in which to kill two employees – or there will be consequences. Panic erupts temporarily until CEO Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn) tries to calm everyone down.

When the employees fail to meet the deadline, over a dozen are killed by explosive devices implanted in their heads. The employees had initially been told they were tracking devices in case of kidnapping, which is a very real danger in the area. Then the remaining employees are told they have to start killing each other in order to survive. Some people appear only too eager to kill. When Norris forces open the locked gun safe, you know where this is headed. The scenario leads to a violent breakdown of normal behaviour. Carnage ensues as colleagues quickly turn on one another. Only one person can emerge victorious.

The film’s premise gives a whole new meaning to the term cutting back staff. A range of office equipment is effectively employed in the carnage. This twisted premise was written by James Gunn, better known for his work on the recent Guardians of the Galaxy films. It marks a return to his roots in low-budget horror. Gunn intended to direct the film, but he eventually left the project for other commitments. Aussie director Greg McLean stepped up.

The Belko Experiment marks a return to the gory horror of Wolf Creek; although here the material is suffused with a strong streak of anarchic black humour. The blood-splattered scenario delivers plenty of tension and gory moments. McLean makes good use of the claustrophobic confines. The film has been nicely shot by cinematographer Luis David Sansans (Days of Grace), and slickly edited by Julia Wong (X-Men: The Last Stand).

McLean has assembled a strong ensemble cast of familiar faces here. You’ll be left to wonder who will survive. Some of the thinly drawn characters though come across as stereotypes. The cast includes Goldwyn (from Ghost) as Norris, who has a background in the military; John C McGinley as the creepy Wendell Dukes; Michael Rooker as a maintenance man; Owain Yeoman (from TV series The Mentalist); Sean Gunn as Marty, the office stoner who provides some comic relief; Adria Arjona, Melonie Diaz and John Gallagher Jr as the confident and charming Mike, who is the moral compass of the group and tries to urge calm and clear thinking. He is also a likeable hero that we can all relate to as all hell break loose.

This twisted and gory thriller plays out as a corporate variation on the Japanese film Battle Royale (the 2000 film in which a group of students were put on an island and forced to kill each other). The film plays with psychological manipulation to provide insights into the way people react when placed under extreme pressure, similarly to the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment. Elements of films like The Hunger Games also emerge. This gore-fest delivers a high body count and is something of a perverse pleasure.

Director: Greg McLean
Cast: Tony Goldwyn, John C McGinley, Michael Rooker, Owain Yeoman
Release Date: 21 September 2017
Rating: MA 15+

Greg King

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