I recently had a peruse of my list of most anticipated films of 2017. Though a couple on that list had been pushed to 2018, I was still somewhat surprised to find out there were two that I had missed, the other being Doug Liman’s The Wall.
Having said that, The Belko Experiment isn’t the sort of film that I would traditionally want to watch. But the fact that it comes from the pen of James Gunn means an exception needs to be made. You just have to look at Slither, Super and the 2004 Dawn of the Dead to see that Gunn has a special talent when it comes to breathing new life into well-worn genres.
In a remote office building in Bogotá, Colombia, Mike (John Gallagher Jr.) – an employee of Belko Industries – goes about his business. He shares his day with his girlfriend, Leandra (Adria Arjona); as well as interacting with his boss, Barry (Tony Goldwyn).
But Mike soon notices that security have refused local workers entry to the building, leaving only the Americans. Once the 80th (and final) American enters the building, the entire place locks down, with doors and windows being covered by impenetrable steel shutters.
A mysterious voice on the intercom then instructs the group to kill two of their colleagues. Trapped and with no way to escape, panic starts to infect each person and the situation soon turns ugly.
It’s true that the underlying concept of The Belko Experiment isn’t particularly original. Battle Royale, The Running Man, The Hunger Games could all be considered its forebears. Fortunately, this Greg McLean-directed film at least has the advantage of a unique location.
But unlike the previously mentioned classics, The Belko Experiment feels free to coast by with only its premise, rather than trying to inject any type of relevant commentary to elevate it into something greater. Battle Royale could be considered a criticism of the Japanese school system; while The Hunger Games was a reflection of reality TV. But The Belko Experiment never really rises above its simplistic tale of survival of the fittest. This could be overlooked if there had been some well-developed characters; but they, for the most part, are rather thinly sketched.
But make no doubt about it, after the speedy 15 minutes of introduction, The Belko Experiment becomes a bloody and brutal tribute to the depths humanity will sink to. But once the actual murdering starts, there is a certain lack of imagination. While it can’t be expected that every kill be as elaborate as a Saw movie, it’s still disappointing that the location of the film isn’t used to its full effect. Rather than drowning-by-fish-tank or death-by-staples, the film instead merely uses guns to dispatch the poor trapped civilians.
Indeed, there’s a little bit of me that wishes there had been more of a black comedy approach. Imagine for a second that the film had been simplified. With everyone locked in the building, the mysterious voice merely says that only one person can leave alive. It would have been far more socially engaging (and perhaps comical) to see normal people try to decide who should die in an office environment: “Don’t forget, we need some diversity!” “Ladies first!” “Last one in, first one out!”
The Belko Experiment could have been astounding. It could have been the Get Out of the corporate world. A hard-hitting satire of 21st century office culture. But alas, with a rather bare-bones approach to its themes, the film ends up being nothing more than a bloody and bloated corpse.