By Chris Campo
If you're a regular here at DCM, first, thank you. Second, you may be familiar with an article I wrote in January titled "Most Anticipated 2017 Releases You've Never Heard Of." I closed the article with a mention of James Gunn's latest, The Belko Experiment. With a great writer, a well cast ensemble and a trailer that looked like a total blast, why shouldn't everyone be looking forward to this film? Not to mention that we have had pretty great horror movies so far this year with Split and Get Out. This film should be great, right?
Belko Industries is a Colombia based company, hiring American workers to deal with international business relations. During a seemingly routine day at the office, a mysterious voice over the intercom informs them that there is no way out of the building, and that all 80 present employees are forced to kill 30 of their fellow workers. If they don't? Every one of them will be killed via a bomb implanted in their head. Mike (John Gallagher Jr.) can't justify taking human life, so he teams up with a few other employees and works towards finding a way to escape from their situation. Meanwhile, Barry (Tony Goldwyn) and his crew take matters into their own hands, attempting to follow through with the murdering. I usually have one or two sentences more in me to describe a film's plot, but that is, essentially, what all 80 minutes of this film's runtime comprises of.
This movie can only be described as filth. If you, as a filmmaker, want to get away with 80 minutes of brutal, excessive and grisly murder, you better have a damn good film to justify it. The Belko Experiment, instead, decides to throw away any character development, interesting plot lines, or unique directing just so it can show nearly 100 mostly-innocent people have their brains splattered on the wall. I usually don't have a problem with violence in movies, but I just couldn't get over how cruel this whole thing was. It's uncomfortably violent for the sake of being violent. There's a scene in which the villains line up both women and men and execute them from behind, and nothing isn't shown. It's not scary. It's cheap shock value, and it helped make The Belko Experiment my least favourite film so far this year.
Just when you think the film might have something to say about violence, it starts celebrating it. I won't spoil anything, but there are some awful events that take place in this film. But it's not just the cruel violence that made me dislike this, but also the weak script. I'm a fan of James Gunn. He shot into stardom with Guardians of the Galaxy, and I love that film, but I also really like his previous works. Slither and Super are both really well written and fun films. With this film, however, it doesn't feel like its written by someone nearly as talented as James Gunn. It feels like merely another horror film on an assembly belt. While offering no surprises or excitement, it also nails just about every cliché it can find.
Some aspects of the movie just don't make sense, full of plot inconsistencies and an ending that's the most cynical and pathetic sequel bait I can ever recall seeing on screen. The characters don't come close to feeling real, changing motivations at the drop of a hat and constantly making stupid decisions. The few characters I actually found interesting died within the first 20 minutes. The writing has a certain tone that would've worked better if Gunn had directed the film himself. Instead, Greg McLean sits in the directors chair. He paints such a one-note tone and the takes the entire thing way too seriously. When Gunn's humor does arrive, it feels awkward, conflicting with the tone the director is going for.
The whole thing lacks a distinct touch of personality, adding to that assembly line feel I mentioned. Although, I do have to respect McLean's preference of practical effects. Despite the violence being borderline sadistic, the gore and the squibs are all really there. While it doesn't save it from being barely even watchable, the film is also quite paced well, with the carnage kicking off only about 10 minutes in. The ensemble cast are shockingly game and they all seem to be having fun. But, like I said, the characters are just awful. They're about as exciting as an actual day at some pencil-pushing desk job.
Still, most of the cast are able to push through and deliver fun performances that are entertaining to watch. John Gallagher Jr. is our "final girl" character of sorts, and he is obviously enjoying himself, doing his best to make the dialogue somewhat believable. On the other hand, frequent James Gunn collaborator, Michael Rooker, was my personal favourite in the movie, despite having such limited screen time. Gunn's brother, Sean Gunn, however, is a walking cliché, and every second he's on screen is eye-roll inducing. The thing about this whole movie is that, despite a lot of the actors giving bad performances, it left me wanting to see this same cast in a better film.
If I could recommend this film to anyone, it would be the genre-loving, splatter house enthusiast, midnight movie crowd who aren't looking for a film with anything interesting to do or say. I'm sure this film will find it's crowd, the few people in my theater seemed to eat it up, but I just couldn't stand it. I contemplated walking out, although after seeing the laugh out loud way this film pathetically tries to set up a franchise, I'm glad I didn't. But, like the equally stomach churning Purge franchise, we'll probably be getting a lot of these.
1 1/2 Stars
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