I really enjoy putting my reviews together. I honestly wish I could delve deeper into certain movies, but alas, I get incredibly busy and can sometimes only deal with movies to a briefer extent than I would prefer. This is why I write these occasional "Brief Thoughts" posts on movies I have seen, as I want to at least offer some of my own perspective on them. They may not be as polished, but I can at least get my opinions out there. This edition of "Brief Thoughts" features a review of The Belko Experiment, written by James Gunn and directed by Greg McLean.
The Belko Experiment: 3 out of 5
It's pretty amazing to look at the career of James Gunn and take in the idea that he'll likely be responsible for one of 2017's most well-liked film by audiences of all ages. Before getting a massive amount of credit for his work on Guardians of the Galaxy, Gunn was making films like Super and Slither. These are twisted pieces of work that balance dark humor with horror (or super heroics) and violence. The connection between all of his work is the strange level of humanity that can still be found within, as Gunn also happens to be a great actor's director. The Belko Experiment is an older script by Gunn and it hits all the beats you would expect from him. Add on Wolf Creek director Greg McLean, and you have an efficient and visually exciting satirical thriller that takes you on a violent journey through a social experiment. It's no John Wick: Chapter 2, but for a film set in a bland office building, it looks pretty good.
Following a setup to establish most of the players, this film gets to its point pretty quickly. The employees of a remote office building in Bogota, Colombia (of all places) are boxed into their building (impenetrable metal walls literally cover the whole building) and voice over a speaker system informs them of their task. The voice announces that everyone will need to kill two of their fellow employees or people will be killed at random. There are a few more rules, but suffice it to say that everyone is trapped, with seemingly no way out of this insane situation. Now it's a matter of whether or not these people will follow through on their instructions.
The Belko Experiment features a solid cast of recognizable faces and character actors. John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Josh Brener and Michael Rooker make up just some of the people involved. The benefit here is how any one of these people could be killed at any moment. I say benefit, but what I mean is that shocking deaths are frequent in this 88-minute feature that rarely stops to breathe. Tensions run high and if you don't mind feeling sort of gross, following this film, you may be able to get into what it's throwing out there.
For a film as nihilistic as this, one certainly has to be ready to engage with the level of dark humor that runs throughout. Some early banter sets up the tone, but things take a turn towards the macabre, once the reality of the situation sets in for some. Goldwyn delivers strong work as the COO of the company, doing what he can to be reasonable in the most extreme way possible. He's one of the few main actors that plays a role as serious as possible, while delicately balancing the slightest sense of humor. That's really the key here - getting on the same wavelength as this film as far as its tone.
The Belko Experiment is a pretty bleak piece of work that certainly begs the question of what the point of all of this really is. It will no doubt be divisive, as even Gunn walked away from directing this film himself back in 2010, upon realizing how miserable he'd be shooting the film for a few months. Of course, getting one's self in the right mood can put you right back on track for the craziness that does ensue. Really, anyone hoping this film delivers on the violent goods won't be disappointed. That's a dark thought, but the film fortunately doesn't try to revel in its violence.
Deep characterizations are not this film's specialty and it's not exactly original in terms of determining which characters come out on top based on either their natural inclination as survivalists or the way the film challenges pacifists to sink down to primal levels. That in mind, as the body count piles up, there is something to be said for having some emotion for people you were rooting for to make it out. An early death certainly helps to sell that point, let alone ones that truly subvert expectation.
For a grimy little film like this with the talents of a cast and filmmaking team game to play along, there's enough here to recommend. Fans of Gunn will certainly find some joy in his darker habits coming out in full effect again, before settling down with a much more likable and friendlier blockbuster this coming may. Others may just find joy in the mayhem on display. Once again, this film delivers, for better or worse.