UK Release Date: 21st April 2017
Runtime: 89 minutes
Director: Greg McLean
Writer: James Gunn
Starring: John Gallagher Jr, Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Sean Gunn, Michael Rooker
Synopsis: A team of office workers at an ill-defined company find themselves plunged into a bizarre social experiment when a voice over the intercom orders them to begin killing their colleagues.
Before he hit the big time with Guardians of the Galaxy, James Gunn was known as something of a trash maestro. He came up through the sausage machine of Troma Entertainment, before making Slither and Super. At around that time, Gunn wrote the script that would eventually become the exceedingly violent horror movie The Belko Experiment. Gunn turned down the chance to direct the film itself and handed the reins to Wolf Creek helmsman Greg McLean. The result is a film that promises satire, but gets so bogged down in violence that it simply feels grubby, ugly and more than a little nasty.
Mike (John Gallagher Jr) works alongside his girlfriend Leandra (Adria Arjona) at Belko Industries in Bogota, Colombia, where all of the foreign staff are implanted with tracking devices in case of kidnapping. Everyone in the company, including boss Barry (Tony Goldwyn) and sleazy exec Wendell (John C McGinley), has been in their post for around a year and few seem to have a full idea of what their employer actually does. All of the staff find themselves locked in the building one morning and a mysterious voice on the tannoy begins ordering them to kill each other, or the devices in their necks will explode, killing twice as many people.
Horror movies are very often nasty, grim experiences. It’s a genre that often forces the audience to look at the darkest elements of the world and tackle them head-on. With that in mind, there’s an argument that The Belko Experiment is a worthy addition to the genre. Unfortunately, this isn’t a film that seems to have any sort of reasoning or deeper social context behind its brutality. Gunn’s script occasionally flirts with sharp satire, but that social commentary is swiftly buried under the considerable weight of point-blank headshots, exploding craniums and people being repeatedly bludgeoned with blunt instruments.
The violence in the film suffers greatly as a result of how little we are allowed to learn about the characters who are either doing the killing or being killed. Most of the people at Belko, based on the thumbnail sketches we are given, seem to be mostly reasonable, ordinary folk and so there’s little reason for us to see their deaths as anything other than a cog in the plotting of the movie – simply another vessel of bodily fluids to be opened up and spilled liberally up the walls and in the lift shafts. We’re not given enough information on these characters to want to root for their survival or lament their descent into moral ambiguity.
It’s sad to see The Belko Experiment wallow so thoroughly in its own filth, particularly given the lip service it seems to play to satire. It is, however, unfortunate that the office satire idea has been absolutely hammered to death in the last few decades – from Office Space at the cinema to The Office on TV both here and in America. There are very talented people involved here, but none are allowed to spread their wings. McLean directed Wolf Creek with grit and darkness, but the positioning of its antagonist as a clearly evil character made it easy to sympathise with his victims. The same is not true here, with factions splitting off and becoming morally righteous or repugnant seemingly at random.
The Belko Experiment is a shockingly ugly and utterly misanthropic film that forces the audience to plunge headfirst into a nihilistic nightmare from which there seems to be no escape. It’s a 90-minute deep dive into the worst excesses of humanity, with no wit, no intelligence and nothing but contempt for its audience. Even the conclusion, where the whole central conspiracy is revealed, never raises its head out of the filth to make an interesting point. There’s little doubt as to why James Gunn walked away from the director’s chair on this one – compared to Guardians of the Galaxy, it’s really depressing.
Pop or Poop?
Horror cinema has found its lowest ebb with this grotty slice of trash from James Gunn. The Belko Experiment is a depressing, dull disaster that follows barely-drawn characters through a horrific scenario, building to a dreary conclusion with zero impact. If you like your violence mean, nasty and context-free, this may be the movie for you. Watch it alone and tell nobody.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.