Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Normalcy Gives Way To Gruesome Bloodshed In The Belko Experiment

Horror movies have always played up the idea that those closest to you can't be trusted, that they have the potential to become monsters under certain circumstances. That's kind of the crux of the whole zombie genre, the concept of your loved ones, friends and neighbors being turned into mindless flesh-eating monsters. You can also see this idea coursing through horror movie masterpieces like The Happening, where both an airborne virus and terrible screenwriting has seemingly normal people acting strange. The Belko Experiment, a new horror film from director Greg McClean, that takes that concept of normal people going malicious and places it in the confines of a cubicle-filled office space.

For the folks working at Belko Industries, today was just gonna be another normal day despite the presence of heavily armed guards at the gates. Then, a voice over the intercom informs them all that they will be forced to kill their fellow co-workers or be killed themselves. Before you know it, the entire building is sealed up, making escape impossible and the various employees learn that they all have chips implanted in their brains that are actually bombs that allow the people behind this insanity to blow anyone's brains out at the flick of a button if the rules are not being followed. Some employees, like Mike Milch (John Gallagher Jr.) are looking to remain calm and find order in this chaos. Others, like Barry (Tony Goldwyn), are starting to feel that murder may be the only way to survive to this calamity.

Despite the presence of an omnipresent voice over the intercom and bomb-laced chips in people's brains, the best part of The Belko Experiment is how it keeps things relatively simple. The antagonists behind this sick experience don't keep introducing gratuitous new obstacles in order to ratchet up the drama, instead, screenwriter James Gunn just lets the situation introduced very early on (you have to kill your co-workers or be killed yourself) play out amongst its large ensemble cast of characters. Enough drama can be gleaned from having the people in this office complex bouncing off each other in violent circumstances without resorting to cheap plot twists or similar storytelling contrivances.

James Gunn's script instead fixates on watching the various character deteriorate in differing ways over the course of the insanity unfolding in the story. In doing so, the plot goes to some really dark places, which, to my surprise, I actually admired, since the movies so fully committed to its own premise that it has no qualms with wallowing in darker plot points. Towards the end, it certainly feels like The Belko Experiment is becoming repetitive in how it keeps trying to one-up its own grisly debauchery, but points for not skimping out on the darker and more intense implications offered up by this premise inherently. 

Similar to the overdose of shock value kills and plot points in the final scenes of this motion picture, there's a similarly high volume of pointless supporting characters that feel like they're just around to fill body bags. To boot, I also have to just wonder out loud if this is one of those movies that might have actually benefited from making a female character the outright protagonist, since the bad guys are all examples of heightened traits associated with toxic forms of masculinity (one such fellow is a creeper whose convinced one lady in the office is romantically obsessed with him when she's clearly not). They actually work fine as adversaries, especially a fun Tony Goldwyn as a cold-blooded boss, but I couldn't help but feel, instead of John Gallgher Jr.'s serviceable but kinda forgettable lead guy, having a woman clash against these antagonists who are the embodiment of negative characteristics strongly associated with men couldn't have made for a more substantive movie.

It's a pity The Belko Experiment couldn't use its intriguingly dark premise to explore deeper concepts, as Get Out has recently shown how thoughtful introspection and high-concept horror can live together in perfect harmony. Still, it's overall a decent horror film with gruesome kills to spare and smartly doesn't hold back in depicting the darkness you're inevitably gonna uncover in the basic premise of this entire feature film. This one will work fine as a late night time waster you can find on Netflix when you're in the mood for some blood n' guts (emphasis on the blood) horror that has a solid script and cast to its name. Just remember to take Sean Gunn's advice and not drink any of the water in the water coolers! 

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