2017 | rated R | John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Michael Rooker | directed by Greg McLean | 1hr 29mins |
Studio Pitch: Office Space meets Battle Royale.
The Belko Experiment is a bar-lowering challenge for anyone like myself who critiqued The Hunger Games for it’s uncanny similarity to Koushun Takami’s book and Kenji Fukasaku’s modern classic film Battle Royale. It’s Blumhouse Pictures going “You thought Hunger Games was a rip-off, get a load of this!”.
The script by James Gunn, pulled out of a dusty drawer after Guardians of the Galaxy hit big, centers on the government contract workers of a high rise building located miles from anywhere in Bogota, Colombia are suddenly locked in the building and forced by an anonymous voice over the loud speaker to kill each other or the company will activate implanted security trackers and blow off the heads of the disobedient. If letting The Hunger Games rip off Battle Royale was a slippery slope, Belko Experiment is what you get when you hit the bottom of the hill. It is The Hunger Games with all of it’s subtext lazily stripped down to obvious black and white text.
Where Hunger Games and Battle Royale use this wholesale murder premise to satirize dystopian societies that devalues life through violent media, reality shows and cable news war-porn, Belko isn’t satirizing anything. For Gunn and director-for-hire Greg McLean (Wolf Creek, Rogue) it’s a tissue-paper thin excuse for some nasty, bloody exploitation cinema right down to Royale’s exploding heads. Despite the office setting and the appearance of Office Space’s John C. McGinley, the movie isn’t satirizing office life either – if it is it’s by someone who never worked in an office. Opportunity after opportunity passes by to explore the manager/employee dynamic through a hyperbolic cat-and-mouse fight for social Darwinist survival ripe for satire. At no point does the white collar setting figure into the story. At no point does it cleverly turn objects of office drudgery into instruments of violence for fun and original kills. All Gunn can conjure up is a guy beaten to death with a tape dispenser. Soon manager Tony Goldwyn and his lackey’s (the movie can’t even make them office suck-ups) are blow torching into the company armory and stalking around with assault rifles picking off the peons and elderly.
Is it a social experiment? Is it a dystopian trap? In both Battle and Hunger Games, the fight for survival ultimately gives over to a fight to overthrow the system. We learn what corrosion or corruption in the system lead to this point. Spoiler alert, The Belko Experiment frustratingly refuses to take that next creative step. It has no interest in the why or building a world, just racking up a body count. McLean keeps it briskly paced, looking fine and mercifully short, as if he made this movie with one eye on something else. It’s completely free of humor, character, creativity and tension.