When I was in the Ninth Grade, a school band trip afforded the chance to play Assassination, a game with dozens of participants each trying to “execute” other players with sucker-dartguns, while avoiding being shot oneself. I worked myself into a pre-game lather fantasizing about methodically mowing down peers, about being the Last Man Standing in a Marching Band Battle Royale. So it was with much disappointment (if little fanfare) that I was killed five minutes in, by a friend to whom I’d bragged throughout about my many kills to follow.
THE BELKO EXPERIMENT basically riffs on my Freshman murder fantasy, to similar pointless ends. The film opens on The Belko Company’s office of 80 bored ex-pats reporting to their Bogotá bureau, navigating a tighter security phalanx than usual, but, Hey, it’s Colómbia! Brief introductions follow — office-nice guy Mike Milch (John Gallagher, Jr.) and his flintier girlfriend Leandra (Adria Arjona); leeringly creepy Wendell Dukes (an exceptionally sweaty John C. McGinley); Spirit of Shaggy stoner Marty (Sean Gunn); character vets Tony Goldwyn and Michael Rooker — and then GAME ON!
And what a game it is! Within minutes of the employees settling into cubicles and offices, a voice comes over the intercom to announce that they need kill two of their number in a half-hour, or four will die. Non-participation is not an option on threat of having your head blown off (by small, Company-placed explosives duplicitously imbedded as “anti-kidnapping trackers”). Impenetrable blast doors and windows drop to seal off the workers to their claustrophobic fates, and the veneer of civilization begins to slough off like so much dead skin. Unknown overlords demand ever more bodies, and even the most reticent and unassuming employees savagely oblige.
Captives responding badly in extreme circumstances is not a novel set-up, and the movie does not really own the several obvious metaphors which present themselves throughout. This is *not* the film to deconstruct Management vs. Labor; Elites vs. Proles; Old vs. Young. But it is still fun, distasteful nastiness — A bit of the old Ultra-Violence. I don’t want to rhapsodize too much — I still have to go to an office tomorrow — but I defy you to watch this film and to not then start recontextualizing your own job. Identify threats! Know your building! A stapler makes an excellent club! And there’s a reason the blade on your paper-cutter is called a guillotine! Mostly, TRUST NO ONE.
Directed by Australia’s Greg McLean from an almost decade-old script from James Gunn, the movie has a lot more of the visceral brutality of the former’s WOLF CREEK than the latter’s Troma-infused schlock. There are some darkly comic moments, sure, but the whole exercise mostly feels lethal, and in an ugly heads-a’-rollin’ way. Nothing antiseptic, here. THE BELKO EXPERIMENT either elevates or reduces “Get Them Before They Get You” from Hobbesian battlecry to Corporate Jingle. As all good Capitalists know it to be, anyway.
John Clark is a local non-celebrity with a pension for pain, and Chihuahuas. If you like a good retweet (FROM THE VOID!), follow him at @egjc_wa.