'The Belko Experiment' Review: Gory 'Battle Royale' fun for the whole office
Going to the movies with friends from the office is typically an innocuous activity, except when said film might leave you thinking, "If we had to kill two people from work, who would we choose?" That's not your standard water cooler talk, and perhaps the only drawback to the immensely entertaining new horror film, The Belko Experiment (so, just go see it with other people!).
The Belko Experiment, written by Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn — who evidently had a horrible office job before he became a high-profile Hollywood figure — shares a lot of its DNA with Japanese cult-classic Battle Royale, with some Office Space-esque humor splashed in for added effect. The film follows a branch of the eponymous Belko Industries in Bogotá, Columbia, during what should be a quiet, if not peculiar day at the office. The local hires at the company are sent home at the gate by mysterious new security guards, leaving 80 workers to make due with a short staff.
They barely get any work done, however, before an eerie voice announces over a building-wide intercom that the employees need to kill two of their own in the next half hour, otherwise, four of them will be killed. This is pretty unsettling — especially when the entire building is soon enclosed in metal, subsequently killing all cell phone reception — but most workers laugh it off as some elaborate prank. That is, until four people are abruptly killed. What's first construed as a sniper shooting four folks in the head, is soon revealed to be the result of employee trackers placed inside each person's skull, which Belko Industries said was in the event that anybody was kidnapped in the streets of Bogotá. They may track people, sure, but they're also rigged to explode. In the spirit of Battle Royale, this is just like the explosive collars the high schoolers are forced to wear for their own fight to the death.
Knowing now that this isn't a prank — and people will get killed if they don't obey the sadistic orders — gory chaos at Belko ensues.
The heightened stakes reveal the baser impulses of the employees at Belko, for better or worse. There's the folks that immediately try to run and hide; a stoner dude who think it's all happening in his head; the good-natured hero who wants to save lives and protect his girlfriend; and the ones who decide they'll be judge, jury and executioner by commandeering guns from the security guards' storage room. Really, the true horror of The Belko Experiment is just how easy it is for seemingly good-natured people to turn into ruthless killing machines to save their own lives.
But, OK, you're probably here for the gratuitous gore. Rest assured, The Belko Experiment doesn't short-change the audience with over-the-top violence. What helps it stand apart — even from the king of the kill or be killed genre, Battle Royale — is the creative deaths from various Belko employees. They'll use knives from the office kitchen, makeshift Molotov cocktails (from a guy in HR!) and in one instance, a tape holder. Where most films turn away from a gruesome final blow, The Belko Experiment revels in the entire, brutal sequence.
The anarchy is buoyed by strong performances from an ensemble cast of B and C-list actors you've probably seen from something, including 10 Cloverfield Lane's John Gallagher Jr., Scandal's Tony Goldwyn, Scrubs alum John C. McGinley and Guardians of the Galaxy's own Michael Rooker. Goldwyn is the most captivating as Belko's COO turned mass murderer, who has some type of militaristic background that gives him a decisive edge.
However, the gloomy circumstances still lend themselves to moments of levity, if only because it's literally a murderous free-for-all with co-workers. This is most evident in The Belko Experiment's score, which feels like a Latin American riff of Gunn's Guardians of the Galaxy "Awesome Mix." Case in point: The opening credits are soundtracked by a Spanish rendition of Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," which is gloriously foreboding.
Horror buffs know what they're getting if they go see The Belko Experiment. It's Battle Royale meets Office Space, and a mindless, bloody vehicle of chaos. As long as you're not expecting thought-provoking social commentary, you'll leave the theater satisfied, and perhaps, more wary of which of your co-workers could get pushed over the edge first.
The Belko Experiment arrives in theaters March 17.
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