Humor, brutality, and a light study on human nature make The Belko Experiment a damn fine way to spend your evening.
When Belko’s employees are suddenly trapped in their office building, they receive instructions from an omniscient voice to kill a certain number of their co-workers or a greater number will be executed. The workers must decide whether to unite in finding a way out, determine who should live and who should die, or erupt into a chaotic free-for-all. As you probably guessed, you maven of genre cinema, a little bit of all these options come into play at different points in the film.
Given science’s twisted history of social experiments, it’s surprising more horror films aren’t based on macabre case studies. The Belko Experiment is Battle Royale meets The Office meets Cube. While the film only explores the surface of nuanced human nature, it delivers a fast-paced smorgasbord of ordinary people’s behavior when forced into extreme scenarios. One can easily imagine his or her own co-workers in this predicament. Stay away from Beatrice in accounting; it’s all a numbers game to her. Jim never did fit in with the rest of marketing. And did you ever wonder why it’s called “human resources”?
James Gunn’s script is a hell of a lot of fun. And once it pops, it doesn’t stop. The characters, setting, and story plants are efficiently packed into the front of the film, so the inciting incident almost comes as a surprise (even though you know what’s coming based on the trailers). With dashes of humor throughout, The Belko Experiment is pulpy but never sleazy or obnoxiously self-aware. It takes the characters seriously, even when the situations are out-of-control.
The cast embellishes the morbid and campy elements of The Belko Experiment, transfixing me with an ever-present smile throughout its runtime. A standout is Tony Goldwyn’s understated performance as a calculating COO. What could have been a cliched portrayal of the out-for-himself executive, Goldwyn turns into a sharp yet textured person that you’ll love to hate. The rest of the refreshingly diverse cast (even if the lead is still a white male) rounds out a solid ensemble of office workers struggling with right, wrong, and sheer survival.
An office building is an unexpected setting for director Greg McLean, who is most well known for Wolf Creek and Rogue. He transforms the sterile interior of Belko Industries into a rich and dynamic environment equally as captivating as the Australian outback. McLean uses color, lighting, and scale to elevate menace and refresh repeat visits to the same location. McLean covers the action and smaller conversations with equal attention — a rewarding balance between capturing the absurdly dark fun of the premise and inviting us to empathize with the characters.
The Belko Experiment is quite simply a good time. It doesn’t present any strikingly new ideas, nor does it contribute much by way of social commentary. However, it’s the type of movie that fully delivers on all things promised by its trailer. If you think you might like it, then you probably will. Oh, and there are lots and lots dead bodies by the end.