The Belko Experiment review: it’s almost horror-satire, but it settles for splatter

A recent Hollywood Reporter interview about the cheapie horror movie The Belko Experiment reveals two nuggets of information that seem pretty relevant to how the film came out: reportedly, Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn got the plot hook from a dream, then banged out the script in a week. That explains a lot about how The Belko Experiment plays out, as a nightmarish but half-assed scenario where the emotions and the gore have impact, but the larger story behind them doesn’t. It could have used a few more weeks on the drafting table, to sharpen its ideas and give it priorities other than gore. There’s a freshly relevant, Get Out-level social satire lurking somewhere in the movie’s core conceits, but what actually made it to the screen feels much cheaper and easier.

Director Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) goes lean and low-budget with this bloody thriller, which manages to turn an immense office building into a suspiciously samey claustrophobic space. Belko Industries is a staffing corporation that helps international companies place American workers. Its Bogotá, Colombia office, located in an out-of-the-way rural area, operates under high security to guard against its employees being kidnapped. The generous benefits packaging includes a company apartment and a company car, but also a company tracking chip, surgically installed in employees’ heads so they can be found if they’re taken hostage. Then one day, new security guards show up and turn all the local staffers away. Shortly thereafter, thick metal shutters drop over the windows, and a voice informs the remaining 80 Belko employees on site that they can either start killing each other, or be remotely executed via the chips in their heads. Naturally, they resist at first, hoping it’s all a prank. The first few head-explosions prove it isn’t, order breaks down, and the bloody mayhem starts.

It takes a fair bit of time for The Belko Experiment to find its feet, because the cast is so large and the setup so rushed in order to get to the blood. Eventually, some key characters emerge out of the chaos. Tiresome romantic-lead exec Leandra (Adria Arjona) verbally pushes for an amoral everyone-for-themselves attitude, but spends most of the film urging others on instead of taking action herself. Her Everyman boyfriend Mike (The Newsroom’s John Gallagher Jr.) is more of a hero, personally standing up for decency and morality, and occasionally getting other people killed as a result. Their buddy Terry (Owain Yeoman) is terrified and willing to do anything to survive; their boss Barry (Tony Goldwyn), a former special-forces commando, is determined to take charge of the murder party and make it as clean and efficient as possible. And then there are other factors, like frightened but decent front-desk security guard Evan (James Earl); tight-lipped Dany (Melonie Diaz), who’s just started her first day on the job; dismissive stoner Marty (James Gunn’s brother Sean), who blames hallucinogens in the water coolers for the whole mess; and grinning sociopath Wendall Dukes (John C. McGinley), who seems to have waited his whole life for a catastrophe to let him off the chain.

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