If you work in an office, you’re familiar with the occasional notion that you might not get through a day without killing your coworkers. Of course, you’d never really do it (hopefully), but what if you were given a order to do so? That’s the basic premise of Greg McLean’s new film, The Belko Experiment.
In a rural part of Bogota, Colombia, employees of the Belko Corporation have their morning routines interrupted by an anonymous voice on the intercom instructing them to start killing each other or they will be killed at random. Most brush it off as a prank, but after realizing they’ve been cut off from the outside, mild panic sets in. However, when the directive is not followed, several of the staff are killed when explosive devices, implanted in their heads by the company, detonate.
Now that everyone knows it’s serious, complete hysteria sets in. Some try to devise escape plans, led by level-headed Mike Milch (John Gallagher Jr.) and his office love, Leandre (Adria Arjona), while the boss, Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn), takes the matter of deciding who is worthy of living into his own hands. Naturally, under the circumstances, human nature kicks in and a survival of the fittest bloodbath ensues. Talk about a bad day at the office.
We don’t know much about what the Belko Corp. is or does. They seem almost too good to be true, providing employees with apartments and company cars, as shown in an on-boarding scene at the opening. This is where the implants are first mentioned as tracking devices in the event an employee is kidnapped. Standard operating procedure.
The Belko Experiment will likely twist the nerves of some viewers as it touches on themes of sexism and ageism. Most notably, when Norris is deciding who would live or die, his criteria is based on age and/or familial status. There is also an offer of sexual favors in exchange for life. No elaborations for spoilers sake.
If you’re familiar with James Gunn’s films, and you should be, you know he imparts a great deal of humor in his scripts, even when the film isn’t a comedy, and it’s done with skill. The problem here is Belko balances on the line between gross-out comedy and grim tale about corporate power, without putting a toe over far enough on either side to distinguish exactly what it is besides being very bloody and violent.
The actors are all in and deliver solid performances throughout, with Gallagher and Goldwyn leading the pack. Tony Goldwyn, who seems to age like a fine wine, is one of the best bad guys in a long while. The always enjoyable John C. McGinley, as the super creepy Wendall Dukes, is almost worth the price of admission on his own.
In the end, The Belko Experiment isn’t anything you haven’t seen before, but if you’ve had a crappy day at work, this might be the best way to vicariously inflict harm on the dick who drank the last of the coffee without making another pot.
Suzanne Bell | Twitter: @chazensjezebel