By: BabyRuth (Four Beers) –
“Office Space meets Battle Royale!” That’s the pull quote used to describe The Belko Experiment on its poster. It accompanies a photo of some faceless office drone using a tape dispenser as a lethal weapon.
Um, yes please? Sign me the hell up!
If you’ve seen the trailer, you know the plot. 80 employees of a corporation called Belko Industries are going about their normal workday when an announcement comes over the intercom informing them that they must begin murdering each other or even more of them will be randomly killed. At first, everyone nervously laughs it off, assuming it’s some kind of prank or test. That is, until steel shutters begin barricading the doors and windows, phones go dead, and oh, yeah, heads start exploding (this is due to a “tracking device” implant all employees receive when they are hired on. Turns out, those implants are also bombs! Surprise!)
James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, Slither) wrote the screenplay in 2010, but backed out of the project shortly after it was greenlit. Five years later, the film was back on, with Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) as director.
The cast is comprised of mostly unknowns, with a few familiar faces scattered in, which makes it pretty easy to figure out who will last longer in the experiment. John Gallagher, Jr. is our white, male, millennial hero Mike, who refuses to play by the mysterious voice’s rules while his boss, COO Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn, hamming it up) goes the opposite route, immediately assembling a team of enforcers in an attempt to take some kind of control of the situation by deciding who gets to live. There are two contestants for the Final Girl: Mike’s girlfriend Leandra (Adria Arjona) and Dany (Melonie Diaz), a new hire having the absolute worst first day at work. John C. McGinley – the one actor they were able to get from Office Space, because that is definitely not a coincidence – is an unlikable perv named Wendell.
And we’re off! May the odds ever be in your favor and may no one reheat fish in the office microwave.
I personally love both what would you do?-type stories and films that take place in real time, so I was totally down for this movie. Yes, its high-concept has been done before, but it’s an intriguing one (which is why it has been used so many times) that leaves a lot of room for different takes on the premise. To use it to satirize corporate office culture is an intriguing idea, not to mention the potential entertainment factor of seeing how everyday objects could be re-purposed as weapons.
Milton and his Swingline definitely would have survived The Belko Experiment.
The film does a good job of setting itself up for a darkly fun gorefest. I was completely on board for the first twenty or so minutes. The unknowing employees settling in to another day of work set to a ha-ha-get- it?-on-the-nose Spanish version (this film takes place in Colombia) of “I Will Survive,” the foreshadowing of an ant-farm (they’re watching the ants, but they will soon learn they are the ants), and some character introductions that allow the audience to determine who we like (Mike) and who we hope gets it (Wendell).
Of all the days not to call in sick.
The first kill is unexpected and I admit, I jumped in my seat enough to spill beer on myself. I laughed, thinking my expectation of this being one of those fun, over-the-top horror movies where you’re laughing and screaming at the same time was correct.
I was wrong. It wears thin very quickly and devolves into a dull, sadistic mess, never offering anything insightful or witty beyond people just screaming, running, and killing each other. Which, yes, is the point, I suppose, but if you’re going to have an entire movie revolving around something so bleak and disturbing, it better be done in a way that is at least interesting to watch and offers the viewer something to think about, or is so over-the-top that there is some humor in it. The Belko Experiment attempts to do both, but accomplishes neither.
Though it was promoted as part “dark comedy,” and seems to have that vibe going in, Belko never lives up to that description as there is very little to laugh at. There are a few attempts, but they all fall as flat as those poor, doomed employees do one by one. This film’s idea of humor is an unfunny running gag of a stoner (James Gunn’s brother Sean) freaking out about possibly contaminated water and a stereotypical gay character nitpicking about a “help!” banner not popping enough.
Oh yeah, you know that overused trope of people in an intense, high-action situation who must take an elevator resulting in an extended shot of them standing perfectly still and silent while muzak plays as they wait to get back into the action?
Yup, that’s in there.
The film fails just as much as much on the horror side. There’s gore, lots of it, but there’s nothing inventive about it. It’s just gore for the sake of gore. And it’s so dismal and mean-spirited, it’s often hard to watch. To top it off, it’s lazy. There’s a plot contrivance of a secret room loaded with assorted weapons, so most of the kills are due to gunshot wounds or the headbombs, which after the first one, get redundant and try on the viewer’s patience.
That’s it. Aside from that featured tape dispenser and a couple kitchen utensils (there’s one legit funny moment with a character grabbing a fork to defend herself), no one makes any use out of the vast array of office supplies available to them. Nobody gets stapled to death. Nobody dies face-down on a copy machine that spits out multiple bloody pages. Nobody gets a pencil to the throat. Did anyone involved in this even ever work in an actual office? You’d think Gunn, who got his start in Troma films, would be able to come up with more creative kill sequences.
I mean, the Keurig is RIGHT THERE!
Once there is finally no more blood left to spill, the film wraps up with a lame explanation that leaves more questions than it answers and, of course, sets up a possible sequel.
NO MORE EXPERIMENTS!
The Belko Experiment fails as both a social commentary and as a straight-up horror movie. It should have been more fun. It should have been smarter. It should have been more… something. If I wasn’t tasked with reviewing it, I seriously would have walked out and gotten my money back about 45 minutes in.
Perhaps Gunn had the right idea when he initially put the film on the back burner, stating “I just wanted to be around my friends and family. I didn’t want to go shoot this thing that was about people who loved and cared about each other being forced into killing each other. It just didn’t seem to be the way I wanted to spend the next few months of my life. So I backed out of it.”
There is one good thing that came out of this movie though:
It would have been so much better, and strangely, more impactful, if the whole thing had been done with LEGOs.
The Belko Experiment (2017) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever someone dies.
Take a Drink: whenever Wendell is awful.
Take a Drink: whenever someone has a plan.
Take a Drink: every time Marty (the stoner) mentions the stupid water.
Do a Shot: when someone you think won’t be killed gets killed.