Director – Greg McLean
Cast – John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Owain Yeoman, Sean Gunn, Brent Sexton, Josh Brener, David Dastmalchian, David Del Rio, Gregg Henry, Michael Rooker, Rusty Schwimmer, Gail Bean, James Earl
Release Year – 2017
Reviewed by John of the Dead
The Belko Experiment excited me for two reasons. First, it comes written by Slither writer/director James Gunn, known to most non-genre fans as the guy who wrote/directed Guardians of the Galaxy. Second, it is directed by Greg Mclean, who stormed onto the Australian horror scene with Wolf Creek, Rogue, and Wolf Creek 2, before soiling his resume with his first American film, The Darkness. Considering both these guys have respectable resumes, I expected to enjoy this film not only for its Battle Royale-esque story, but because good filmmakers deliver good films. If you are in the mood for gore supplied via practical effects then this effort will keep your interest afloat. However, with a story that is only smart on the surface, I was left a bit disappointed that a promising film fell incomplete.
Belko Industries is an American non-profit company servicing 40 countries while operating in Columbia. One day, the local employees are turned away and the 80 American employees are subjected to a terrifying game. Operations are halted and an anonymous voice takes over the intercom system, giving them simple directions with extreme prejudice – kill or be killed. As the employees struggle with the moral dilemma of the task required of them, others take measure into their own hands…where chaos ensues.
The film stars John Gallagher Jr. (10 Cloverfield Lane, The Newsroom) as Mich, a young employee who is only moderately serious about his work, and reaping the benefits of dating his co-worker, Leandra (Adria Arjona). Scandal star Tony Goldwyn stars as their boss, Barry, and you’ll notice a few familiar faces in John C. McGinley (Stan Against Evil) as Wendell Dukes, Michael Rooker as Bud, and Sean Gunn (James Gunn’s brother) as Marty. While showing up for work Mich notices that something is awry. There are armed guards outside the perimeter of the building, and the locals have been sent home in peculiar fashion. Everyone else seems to shrug this off, but he knows there is something not right going on. Soon enough, the workday is halted by armored shutters that seal them off inside the building. Then, a mysterious voice on the intercom gives them the ultimate ultimatum. There are different tasks ordered throughout the film, but the core stays the same: kill or be killed. The workers are hesitant at first. Coming from the states to a foreign country has left them all in the same boat, and them being able to relate to one another means they are all friends to some extent. Soon enough, when the company begins taking matters into its own hands, social breakdown occurs. Those who want to survive the ordeal at all costs join together and begin killing those either too weak to fight or those who simply won’t kill at all. A situation like this was bound to happen, and it is only natural that our main protagonists lie in the second group. Faced with an overwhelming force, Mich, his girlfriend, and a slew of survivors must fight their way against people of not only superior strength, but also superior firepower and nowhere to run from it.
This brings me to my biggest gripe with the film: its use of firearms. If you know me then you know I have a lifelong fascination with weaponry and shoot with my friends quite often. I am pro-gun, and stand by libertarian values. That being said, I was disappointed with how much gun-play there was in the film. I do not object to the antagonists having guns. Again, I enjoyed our protagonists having to somehow defeat an overwhelming force. What I did not like was the fact that not only was there too many guns, but there was way too much ammo. The use of firearms was fine at first, but it got old and made the kills too easy. Had they run out of ammo we would have seen more hand-to-hand combat and the use of makeshift weaponry (or at least a computer monitor thrown at someone’s face). Instead, the kills become boring and all we have to enjoy is the good amount of blood that comes with them. Because of this the film began to lack tension when it should have been building it. While this did not make me hate the experience it did make me enjoy it less than I wanted to. In fact, with 15 minutes remaining I was pretty much ready for the film to end. Speaking of the ending, it is more of a revelation than a twist, and is sure to please some and annoy others.
Director Greg McLean does well with this experience, giving us copious amounts of blood. This blood wound up being more important than it should have been, as it eventually had to make up for what the story lacked. Had it not been for the gore, which was also supplied via practical effects, I would not have seen this as a positive experience whatsoever. He does a fantastic job of setting up the conflict and delivering good tension during the film’s first act. James Gunn’s story leaves us just as confused as the employees are, keeping us in the dark over what will happen to them and also what is killing those who don’t comply (until eventually revealed). McLean’s execution of this left me jumping on my seat on at least one occasion. The atmosphere is solid and the sets used left you feeling hopeless for the employees without a force multiplier to defend each other with. Their acting performances are fair, with Tony Goldwin stealing the show and nobody else stepping up to the plate. You will have some characters that you want to survive more than others, but I did not find myself caring for anyone other than the security guard, Evan (James Earl; Scream Queens, Glee, The Lazarus Effect). This is a much better directorial effort than McLean’s previous American film, The Darkness. I am glad to see that he hasn’t lost his edge, as he at least gets the gore right in this experience.
Overall, The Belko Experiment is a film with a lot of promise, but its upside is limited by its writing. You can rest assured there will at least be good gore and plenty of violence. Sadly, that is about all the film excels at.