James Gunn, the creative mind behind Vol. 1 and the upcoming Vol. 2 of the “Guardians of the Galaxy” saga, has written a psychological horror/thriller that mixes originality with familiarity. “The Belko Experiment” pulls you in with an interesting premise that could have gone in a variety of directions, but, ultimately, the film leaves you unsatisfied.
The setup is intriguing: What would you do if you and 79 of your co-workers became trapped in your office building – and a mysterious voice over the intercom tells you all that a certain number of people need to die in a specified amount of time – or else even more people will die?
You might panic. You might break-down emotionally. You might write a letter to your kids. Or you might find all the weapons in the building and start eliminating your friends one by one.
All of the above takes place in “The Belko Experiment”, from characters played by John Gallagher, Jr. (“10 Cloverfield Lane”), John C. McGinley (who was in the 1999 cult comedy classic “Office Space”, making this the best inside joke of the movie year so far), “Scandal”‘s Tony Goldwyn, and Melonie Diaz. But – as you probably can guess – it’s the violence that dominates. Director Greg McLean (“Wolf Creek 1 & 2”) isn’t afraid to go all-out with the blood (there may be more of it spilled here than in “Hacksaw Ridge”). A particular scene involving an explosive amount of blood is when “Belko” goes from intense thriller to gorefest – and loses its narrative grip.
I was with “The Belko Experiment” until then. The script has some creative perks, including inserts of satiric humor amidst this outrageously absurd situation (though the film as a whole is far from campy enough to enjoy on that level). And you do begin to care for some of the core characters.
However, it turns-out the title gives away way too much, undermining of the “suspense” factor of “The Belko Experiment”. The final scenes put a bow on everything, but the revelations are quite expected and feel dated. Takeaways involving the state of the modern workforce and how companies can easily target their employees have been tackled many times before, and “Belko” doesn’t add anything new to the water-cooler conversation.
The point of it all? Most experiments have one, but other than seeing how many people can die (in the most gruesome ways possible) in a 90-minute movie, there really isn’t one.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “The Belko Experiment” gets a C.
Running Time: 88 min.