US/Colombia | 2016 | Directed by Greg McLean
Logline: A large group of employees trapped in a remote high-rise corporate office are ordered to begin killing each other, or they will be systemically killed.
Written by genre hot-shot James Gunn prior to directing his satirically brilliant Super, and directed by acclaimed ex-pat Aussie Greg McLean (as Gunn decided he no longer wanted to helm the project due to his own divorce) this hybrid horror-thriller-action-black comedy is more entertaining than it deserves to be, but it’s ultimately not as sharp as it thinks it is.
In a remote property in Bogotá, Colombia, on the outskirts of the city, a building housing Belko Industries employees is preparing for another day on the corporate grind. But something is not right. Security at the entrance is on high, with intimidating armed guards checking IDs and vehicles. Shortly after the working day commences an authoritative voice over the building’s intercom makes a startling announcement; that within the next two hours the eighty employees that are currently within the building must begin a deadly task. They must kill thirty of their co-workers, or else sixty will be killed by alternate means. To punctuate the order impenetrable metal walls seal off any means of escape. Game on.
Turns out all eighty personnel have an implant in the back of their neck, originally as a security tracking protocol in case of abduction, but revealed, horrifically, as actually a remote-controlled explosive. Yes, the instigators of this sadistic social experiment are deadly serious. A little murderous fun at the expense of the innocent, it’s corporate corruption at its most base level.
Taking inspiration from the cult Japanse movie Battle Royale, with elements of Punishment Park and The Naked Prey, and even the Saw franchise, The Belko Experiment is essentially an elevated exploitation movie (if you’ll pardon the pun), or shall we say, low-end high concept. It’s the kind of straight-to-video movie that was made in the 80s, and it feels oddly out of place. In fact it has the vibe of a foreign movie that’s been remade for the English-speaking market. Perhaps it would’ve carried a bit more impact if McLean had actually shot the movie in Spanish, probably not, but I kept thinking that all the way through.
There are no real plot surprises, and there are a few clunkers in the jokes department, but McLean directs with gusto, and he gets solid performances from his cast, all of whom are charismatic, with a few standouts, including the dodgy suits Tony Goldwyn as Norris, the company’s CEO, and John C. McGinley as stationary-chewing sociopath Wendell Dukes, John Gallagher Jr. and Adria Arjona as central protagonists Mike and Leandro, who do their best to stay on top of the chaos and carnage, and also of note, James Gunn’s brother Sean, as neo-hippie dork Marty.
For a movie relying on lots of bloodshed and a few choice practical gore gags I was surprised there wasn’t an opening titles credit for special effects makeup. If the movie had been made in the 80s, Tom Savini would’ve, no doubt, been all over it. As it is, The Belko Experiment serves up a high protein dish of mayhem. There’s not a whole lot of satirical fibre, but the ending, whilst expected, provides a satisfying bigger picture.