The Belko Experiment (2016)

Promoting this movie as Office Space meets Battle Royale is quite misleading.  Office Space is a comedy and, when it gets down to it, a very light one.  What it had going for it is that it did a wonderful job of capturing, and lampooning, office culture in the late 1990s.  Since office culture still hasn't changed much since then the movie still works.  Battle Royale didn't lampoon anything, but gave us a fascist Japan in an alternate universe that puts school children on an island to fight and die for entertainment and, supposedly, population control reasons.

The Belko Experiment is not a comedy, though there are some moments in it - especially the one referenced in the poster - that are darkly humorous.  It does have a lot more in common with Battle Royale in parts, although I would say a large portion of the movie may also have been influenced by the low-budget Canadian thriller Cube.  Supposedly it was the result of a dream that screenwriter James Gunn had and, though he may be telling the truth, I can't help but think he had it after binge watching those two movies.

Belko Industries is located in an isolated office building in Bogota, Colombia.  The staff is international, although largely staffed by Americans.  One day upon arrival the workers find that the normal security detail has been replaced by armed guards that appear to be from a private firm, but business inside the building seems to be normal.  Leandra Flores (Adria Arjona) is looking forward to spending time with her husband Michael Milch (John Gallagher Jr.) while trying to ward off the advances of serial sexual harasser Wendell Dukes (John C. McGinley).  Dany Wilkins (Melonie Diaz) is going through the routine of her first day, while CEO Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn) is doing whatever he does. 

The only strange thing is that all the locals who staff the building are gone, and the reason why soon becomes apparent.  Steel shutters close, trapping the remaining 80 workers inside, and a voice comes on the intercom informing them that they must choose two people to kill or there will be consequences.  At first Michael and Barry think it's a prank, but when explosives implanted in employees' heads - supposedly put there as trackers in case of a kidnaping - activate, they realize that the situation is serious.  They are ordered to kill another 30 people, with the penalty being the death of 60 if they fail.  With time counting down the employees begin taking sides and turning against each other, with a number deciding they want to survive at all costs.

The reason James Gunn didn't direct this is that he saw it as a step backwards, so it ended up going to Australian director Greg McLean, most famous for the movie Wolf Creek.  Most of the actors are those that Gunn has used in his movies before, with Michael Rooker having a small part as a maintenance man and a number of others having small roles as well.  The budget is kept down by filming on location and largely within the office building and grounds itself. 

The big surprise was that, as the movie moves toward its conclusion, it never got as clichéd as I was afraid it would.  I thought I had pretty much guessed the drama that would tie up everything before finding out who the big bad guy behind everything was, but I was wrong.  It still is predictable in many ways, basing part of the movie on a discredited psychological study from the 1960s and the usual suspects turning out to be the ones that quickly take a liking to all the killing.  It also doesn't flinch at making sure that the deaths are brutal and, often times, random or unnecessary.

Still, despite decent acting and some tense scenes, The Belko Experiment feels like a cast off project.  It probably turned out a lot better than expected, and much of that is due to McLean, but because of the nature of it there was never anything to be expected from it despite a twist ending that promised much more.  Although it tries to be disturbing and somewhat thought provoking it is still a shallow film that bases much of its premise on outdated research.  Entertaining it is, but it is also quite forgettable.

The Belko Experiment (2016)
Time: 89 minutes
Starring: John Gallagher Jr., Adria Arjona, Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz
Director: Greg McLean



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