“We signed up to let these guys do whatever the fuck they want to us.” Andrew Brooker reviews what is sure to be one of the year’s most underrated thrillers.
Social experiment movies have a long and proud history, with some of my favourite thriller/horror films falling into this category. From Saw to Exam, and from Cube to The Purge; these films put a weird sense of dread in me that regular horror movies just don’t do. They have this way of making me absolutely crap my pants, wondering what the hell I would do in those situations – of course, I’m pretty sure that’s the point.
And so, on a quiet Friday afternoon, I headed for a lunch time screening of The Belko Experiment, the latest Blumhouse movie to enter this most entertaining sub-genre that promised bloody carnage-filled fun.
In a seemingly innocuous office building in Columbia, the almost exclusively American staff of Belko industries are left wondering what is going on when security is tightened and they are being escorted into work by heavily armed guards. They aren’t left to ponder for long, as a sinister voice no-one recognises asks for their complete attention and explains the rules to a gruesome game they are all now unwittingly a part of.
Ordered to start killing co-workers on a time limit, or face the wrath of the God-like voice coming from the PA system, the Belko employees start fighting with their consciences – and each other – to try and figure out a way out of the heavily fortified building they have been locked in to.
If you ever think you’ve got a bad case of The Mondays, this is the film for you. In the same way that The Purge series puts the idea into your head about what you would do if you were given one night to get away with almost anything; I fear this film will have me looking at the people I share an office with differently once I get back to work. Whilst there are definitely some similarities between the near-future franchise and The Belko Experiment, this takes things in a slightly different direction with a very claustrophobic feeling to the entire thing.
Written by James Gunn – yes, the guy that wrote and directed Guardians of the Galaxy, but so many forget that he’s responsible for Slither, 13 Ghosts and cut his teeth with the nutters over at Troma – and directed by Wolf Creek helmer Greg McLean; The Belko Experiment assembles a selection of not-quite-A-list stars and throws them (quite literally) into the meat grinder. John C. McGinley (Scrubs), John Gallagher Jr. (Newsroom), Tony Goldwyn (Scandal) and Adria Arjona (True Detective) headline a cast filled with people in the “don’t I know them from something” category. Some last longer than others as you get to guess which one will come out on top as the stakes get progressively higher.
Tension is cranked up slowly and deliberately. It’s an edge-of-your-seat ride waiting for the tide to turn towards the bloody and the first death. Knowing full well that once the first body drops, the rest will follow along pretty quickly; I’ve never been so desperate to yell at the screen for someone to hurry up and die already. As you would expect from the guy that made the truly horrifying Wolf Creek, every death is an experience to watch. Somehow, the laughs come almost as regularly as the blood after the first guy to kick the bucket does so with a little help from a spanner – it’ll have you laughing and wincing in equal measure.
Which is pretty much the order of the day for half the hilariously creative ways McLean finds to kill innocent people. Even if they aren’t getting laughs from you, something as mundane as an execution at the hands of someone with no idea how to use a gun is a nail biting affair that leaves you in a bloodthirsty mood wanting more.
Like many of the films that come from the House of Blum, The Belko Experiment is a much smarter affair than many will give it credit for. Teasing those that watch it with a sense of terror and a tense atmosphere that maybe a lot in the audience won’t be expecting, given the trailers, it transports you into a mindset that will leave you debating the choices you would make if it ever happened to you. That said, I’ve been looking forward to this for quite some time based on those ads, hoping for nothing more than a fun movie; and boy did this film deliver. In spades.
Brutal and bloody, gruesome and hilariously, darkly funny; The Belko Experiment earns its 18 rating. It’s a superbly written and beautifully directed 90 minutes of blood-soaked fun. If, as the ending (you may or may not see coming) suggests, we get a sequel to this gory funhouse, I will be the first in line to buy tickets for it.