If you’re anything like me, the phrase “Battle Royale meets Office Space” is enough incentive to purchase a ticket to The Belko Experiment. The Belko Experiment comes from director Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) and writer James Gunn (Slither, Guardians of the Galaxy), and premiered to a sold-out crowd in the Saturday night slot at the Toronto International Film Festival’s Midnight Madness program.
Other filmmakers in the Marvel machine have taken small breaks to work on low-budget, personal projects like Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing or Jon Favreau’s Chef. Guardians of the Galaxy writer/director James Gunn, in typical Gunn form, stepped away from cheeky superheroes to release a film that’s violent and darkly humorous. McLean, who’s debut Wolf Creek was deeply twisted and disturbing, finally goes back to those roots in a film that shows off his true directorial skills.
Belko is an American company with an office in the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia where no one really seems to understand what they do. They’re tied to the government, maybe, and work with companies across different countries. There are security checks as employees come in, so whatever it is, it must be important. The office life, however, couldn’t seem more bland and banal. It’s every boring office job you’ve ever worked. Small talk, friendly smiles plastered to your face, secretly hating your coworker – Belko has it all.
The day at the office is slightly a-typical: today, there are new guards who are heavily armed, and all Colombian employees are being sent home. The American workers seem mostly unfazed until a mysterious voice comes over the loudspeaker and announces that most of the 80-something workers there will be dead by the end of the day. The voice tells everyone that they must start to murder their coworkers over the next half hour, or the voice will choose which ones die. Then metal doors slam around every door and window of the building, sealing everyone inside.
Most of the employees seem to think it’s a prank and let the clock tick down. Then, in a violently bloody scene, people start dropping dead from what seems to be gunshots. It’s not, it’s the tracking devices all employees have installed when they start work (in case of kidnapping, they say) being detonated from whoever is orchestrating this madness. The workers are being watched, and now they have to really play by the unseen puppet master’s rules. The doors are impenetrable, even by blow torch, cell phone signals and blocked and armed snipers are ready to take out anyone who tries to signal for help from the roof.
The film gives us several characters to root for and root against, each taking a different approach to the situation: new girl Dany (Fruitvale Station’s Melonie Diaz) chooses to hide, stoner custodian Marty (Gilmore Girl‘s Sean Gunn) opts for a paranoid freakout, our hero Mike (10 Cloverfield Lane’s John Gallagher Jr.) wants everyone to work together, pragmatic COO (Scandal‘s Tony Goldwyn) is willing to kill to save himself, and office creeper Wendell (Scrubs‘ John C. McGuinley) is more than happy to arm himself and get down to business.
The socio-politics of whether or not you should kill to save yourself, or does one life have more value than others, are not at play here. Instead, Gunn and McLean opt for a fun, violent and thrilling ride through the macabre game. The stakes get higher and higher, as does the body count, but the film never loses its thrilling edge of dark humour and gleeful violence. While the plot may be “Battle Royale meets Office Space,” the vibe is more along the lines of Cabin in the Woods: be willing to suspend your disbelief and you’re in for a bloody fun romp that will leave horror fans satisfied.
The Belko Experiment is expected to be released in March.