Smaller films that have less buzz surrounding them from moviegoers need to be smart about when they release the film to the public in order to maximize profit. This weekend is a prime example of such an outcome with counter programming heavily in place with The Belko Experiment showcasing a ton of blood and gore to combat the Beauty and the Beast’s family oriented entertainment. The following review will be spoiler free.
The Belko Experiment is directed by Greg McLean and stars John Gallagher Jr., Adria Arjona, and Tony Goldwyn. The film follows a group of eighty workers at their high-rise corporate office. Things seem to be going along just fine when a voice comes over the intercom at the office. The voice says that the those at the office must kill a certain number of other workers or be killed themselves. As a result, insanity ensues, leaving a select few at the office to fend for themselves.
This film is produced by BH Tilt, which is Blumhouse’s multi-platform release branch that has its own slate of low-budget films that largely get released to streaming or on-demand services. However, sometimes these films are able to get a boost into a theatrical release due to special circumstances.
In this case, we have the success of Guardians of the Galaxy to thank as the director of some of our favorite Marvel heroes, James Gunn, wrote the script to The Belko Experiment, giving the film an extra layer of intrigue by genre enthusiasts. Before he hit it big with Guardians of the Galaxy, Gunn made a name for himself directing or writing many hyper violent films such as Super, Slither, and the Dawn of the Dead remake. No matter the film, Gunn always seems to create an intriguing premise, consistently subverting genre cliches and making a truly original film. These notes gave me a little boost of excitement to see his latest writing project.
I will say that whether or not you like this movie depends on how well you handle gratuitous violence. The Belko Experiment is extremely brutal and knows that it is as every second passes. This movie revels in the idea killing people in new, inventive ways with everyday office objects. Even when you think the movie is going to take the story in a different direction and have some higher meaning, it doubles down on the killing and becomes even more gruesome. So, if you don’t enjoy gore, stay away from The Belko Experiment at all costs.
As for those still intrigued, what The Belko Experiment has going for it is a great premise that can feel somewhat applicable. Once the intentions of the people over the intercom prove to be fatal for those in the office, there’s a nice moral dilemma that comes over you as an audience member in regards to how you would react in such a circumstance. A lot of the characters are forced to decide whether to kill multiple people to save themselves (and others) or do nothing and let themselves succumb to the other workers or the silver bullet that the people in charge of the intercom have at their disposal. Given the atmosphere that the film sets, these questions are warranted and have a lasting effect on you as the viewer.
The Belko Experiment, like the blood that is splattered all over the walls, is a little bit of a mess tonally, however. It felt like the film tried to have some sort of satirical edge to the senseless killing, but the film was neither clever enough to pull it off nor funny enough to distract from the murders, so what we end up getting is a film that jumps between brutal killings and jokes which leads to a weird and sometimes unpleasant feel overall.
The film also attempts to have the feel that it’s happening in real time but has illogical jumps in time to progress the story. Sorry, but I don’t buy it when the intercom announces that the workers have two hours to kill a certain amount of people when the film itself is less than an hour and a half and tries to make it feel like the workers are reacting to things in real time. This issue only adds to the messy nature discussed above.
That being said, there’s a certainly quality about the Belko Experiment that makes it very watchable. The film has a great, bleak atmosphere that almost envelopes each character, giving the movie a sort of realistic feel that really ramps up the tension as the story progresses. The score of the film has a pulse that mimics a heart beat, which in turn puts you on edge as the film pumps you with adrenaline, making your heart race with the action on screen.
Moreover, I appreciated the film’s attention to detail with setting up this environment for this twisted social experiment to take place. While the ultimate realization of The Belko Experiment may fall flat, it meticulously sets up and gets rid of any loopholes that a worker might find to get out of the office. We see it all the time when people are stuck in a certain situation in movies; audiences members start yelling at the screen for the character to just do some simple task, but obviously they won’t do so because that idea would ruin the movie’s concept. The script written by James Gunn accounts for all possible escape routes and quickly expunges the notion of fleeing from the characters’ minds, trapping them and forcing them to make a moral decision that affects countless other people.
I do, however, wish that the film was more creative than the final product turned out to be. The film seems to be so focused on killing more people that it fails to do anything fun or different with its great concept. As you watch the film, it’s obvious that the kills are meant to take center stage, but there’s too little thought put into the type of kills we see which makes the film as a whole feel a little “run of the mill.” The Belko Experiment in this instance becomes a frustrating film because you can see the potential it had to be much more than what the final product ended up being.
All and all, The Belko Experiment is a mixed bag. There are certainly a lot of things to like and dislike about this movie. As mentioned before, whether or not the film swings positively or negatively depends on your ability to handle violence. This film is not for the casual moviegoer, but those who happen to enjoy gore and kills in their movies will certainly enjoy themselves. It gets a C+. The Belko Experiment may end up turning into a guilty pleasure for a lot of people.
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