The idea of capitalism as an all seeing, all consuming monstrosity is nothing particularly new, but never has it been more portrayed with such a literal effect as it does in The Belko Experiment. The film is a collaborative effort from director, Greg McLean (Wolf Creek 1 & 2, Rogue), and writer, James Gunn (Slither, Super, Guardians of the Galaxy), and both of their idiosyncrasies as genre filmmakers work to a particularly great effect here, even if it doesn’t ultimately stray too far from it’s obvious riff on the 2000 Japanese film, Battle Royale.
Belko is a company that has an office located in Colombia, everyone comes to work, and things from the get-go seem off due to the presence of heavily armed guards, and the fact that certain employees seem to be excused for the day. Thing go on as normal, until a voice tells everyone that a certain number of people need to be killed within a certain period of time. At first, everyone thinks it’s a joke, but then heads start exploding. The employees quickly find themselves in a kill-or-be-killed scenario, fighting for survival by any means necessary.
With a runtime of an hour and 28 minutes, the film is quick to get things going. It hits the ground running, and wasting no time to get to the good stuff, which makes it easier to forgive some its underdeveloped ideas. James Gunn brings in a sense of building insanity and a wicked, pitch black sense of humor. Greg McLean fires on all cylinders, capturing the splatterfest with a pitch-perfect eye, and doing a really good job at balancing some of tonal weirdness that Gunn has always been known for. The film doesn’t hold back with its violence. It’s unforgiving, nihilistic, and so, so, so, so bloody.
Along with being a technically efficient, and well constructed piece, it’s filled with great actors. It does a clever thing where it opens with giving a good chunk of the characters just enough time for any one of them to be the lead, and once everything goes into place and delves into chaos, people die off so quickly and unceremoniously, it never quite lands on a central figure for the audience until the third act gets into gear. This would be a problem with most other films, but here’s it’s handled fairly well. It helps that the cast is made up of a very solid, reliable group of actors like John Gallagher Jr, Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Owain Yeoman, Josh Brener, and even some James Gunn regulars like Sean Gunn, and Michael Rooker. These are all people who’ve been around for a while, many of them have even been a part of genre films before, so they know just how to play with this material, where to be silly and over-the-top, as well as where to slow down, and get serious.
As much as I enjoyed The Belko Experiment, it’s the kind of film that is reserved for the biggest genre film fans. It has a certain ugliness and nastiness to it that in all likelihood won’t go over well with a majority of mainstream moviegoers. Adding that to the fact that it ultimately is a rather thin genre exercise, even if it’s a well executed one, might not be enough to win over most people. It doesn’t “transcend” the genre or anything like that, this is a film that digs its hands in the mud of sleazy, gory exploitation, and stays well within that to a suitable effect.
There’s ultimately not a whole lot to it, but The Belko Experiment knows exactly the kind of film it is, and it knows why that kind of film works when they’re at their best. It’s a film made by people who understand the material, and obviously enjoy this particular type of filmmaking, and while it may seem like they’re not exactly stretching their abilities, sometimes seeing filmmakers dial things back, and serve something simple and seemingly unassuming can be good enough. And that’s what The Belko Experiment is, it’s good enough. It sells itself as Battle Royale meets Office Space, and that’s precisely what they give you with no pretense or misrepresentation. If you’re up for some silly, high concept ultraviolence, this film will do just fine. It’s nothing essential, but it’s not asking to be. However, if you see it on the big screen, and with a crowd, you might have a pretty great time.