The Belko Experiment
Directed By: Greg McLean
Written By: James Gunn
Produced by: Orion Pictures
Starring: John Gallagher Jr.
“I Will Survive!”
Let’s face it: it’s 2017, year one of the Trump administration, and Hollywood horror sells. While politically conscious Get Out, dark fantasy legend The Dark Tower, apocalyptic psychodrama It Comes At Night and upcoming remake masterpiece It all prove the genre still has bone chilling legitimacy, the genre is plagued by shamelessly dull copycats more jumpscare and splatter than substance, produced to grab a couple box office millions.
2017 has yet to create is a film with the same slapstick loving, blood spilling, unhinged gusto that last year’s The Belko Experiment had.
The film’s demented humor hits long before the first morsel of brain matter explodes. The first scene of the film shows caravans of cars driven to an isolated industrial compound in Bolivia, accompanied by Blackwater-like soldiers, while a Spanish language version of Gloria Gaynor’s infamous “I Will Survive” blares. The ironic tune likely put savvy audiences in stitches.
Many who caught Belko in theaters knew what to expect: multi-talented low brow horror creator James Gunn chose an edgy social media campaign for Twitter, Facebook and other popular sites with snarky meme-style posters (portraying bloody office equipment and employees) and blood smeared DIY employee badges.
The transparency this fun film reflects is not only embodied in its marketing campaign, but also with its no pretenses, ‘this is a slasher’ plot. International employees ooh and ahh over their new corporate goodies: free cars, apartments, laptops, phones, blah, capitalist pigs. They start office droning before a hidden intercom announces a game: 80 people are in the building, 2 should be killed in 30 minutes, or else. Blowtorch-proof, wifi-proof metal armor surrounds the building. Try contacting the outside, you die.
Nobody buys this, but it gets security and maintenance workers, cafeteria attendants, employees, slutty secretaries and CEOs flustered. They argue over explanations, attempt to escape, are confused, 30 minutes fly by, no murders. So four people’s heads explode, not from bullets the Blackwaters fire when the workers attempt escape, but from implants in their heads they received at their physicals. You can’t cut your bombs out, Belko has cameras everywhere. Now they have 2 more hours, 30 of 76 people should be murdered ‘by any means necessary’, or 60 will die.
Homage to Cronenberg’s Scanners? Duh.
Ripped off Battle Royale and catchy viral games? Yup.
Cheap version of The Purge portraying a world satisfied with dog eat dog violence?
The baffled subjects display a variety of reactions, not just blind subservience. Several delve into denial, some mundanely, some absurdly. A few, like a dangerously jittery maintenance man, panic and buckle under pressure. Several attempt escape strategies: none work and all get them in deeper shit with Belko. A few refuse under strong moral convictions, like that’s gonna help. A small group of CEOs and higher ups decide to play judge and jury, and bust into a weapons cache. Well, that escalated quickly.
The underlying message, apart from the bloodfest, is satisfying. The Belko Experiment is an experiment. ‘Science’ is something ‘enlightened societies’ consider a ‘good thing’. ‘Science’ has used the homeless, racial minorities, combat soldiers, mentally ill patients, convicts, animals and others in the past (and present) as disposable subjects. But it would never happen to over educated employees of a major corporate company like Belko. It’s sadistic fun to see button down Brooks Brothers guys and gals melee it out for research.
What makes Belko different from (and superior to) The Purge and other politically engaged slashers of its ilk is that Gunn knows all this, expresses it intelligently without a line of dialogue, doesn’t over think it (like The Purge does), and proceeds to the coliseum games.
If Belko does anything expertly, it paces. While the action moves briskly, it also allows pressure to build for each character. We can equally relate to a dictator-ish CEO who claims some necessarily have to be sacrificed; a ballsy moral abstainer who risks himself to keep weapons away from everyone, a new ager who claims it’s all in his mind, a cowering intern, a security guard wielding the only available handgun. We can also see them as pathetic, selfish, evil, or stupid.
I can imagine Belko’s mayhem unfolding on a big screen. When the fascist CEO attempts to appease Belko by executing selected sacrifices (to a Spanish language version of California Dreaming), a blackout ensues, and hell breaks loose. Shots are fired wildly and blindly; fire axes cafeteria knives, tables, and other office equipment are wielded to hilariously bloody effects, Molotov cocktails explode all in one adrenaline fueled, convoluted, breakneck speeded frenzy. You don’t know which character is alive anymore. You stopped caring. You’re too busy laughing.
There’s a gorgeously choreographed 30 person headsplosion to classical music with some epic comedic timing.
There’s another, more intense, challenge.
There’s an epic fight between two major characters that strips pretenses of intelligent communication and delves into pure alpha ape nature. It includes an ill fated tape dispenser.
There is a twist ending that will have you slamming your head yelling ‘COME ON!’
I’ve ruined enough for you. Belko is trash, splash, and slash wrapped around very effective film making and some unpretentious but insights about scientific, social, technological and commercial gods we trust in.
What makes it madcap, joyful and watchable is that it is not full of itself. Rather than being somber at no one’s expense, it’s fun loving and grotesque at everyone’s. It touches on the dangers of global markets, corporate outsourcing, capitalism, modern scientific ideals, the reliance on technology…then whacks you in the face with a wrench.
Ultimately, Belko is profound by making no attempt to be: there’s nothing profound about violence. Try all we might, we can’t understand violence. There’s nothing to research. It’s violent and animal.
And I don’t need three more years of this to tell you that.
The Belko Experiment:
Four out of four stars: Cronebergesque headsplosions!
Four out of four stars: Exorcist inspired execution. Look ma, no ammo!
Four out of four stars: How about a Spanish language version of Killing Me Softly at Karaoke?
Four out of four stars: Time flies when you’re a killing machine!
Four out of four stars: Nice guys finish first and aren’t nice anymore.
Four out of four stars: DIY Office design. Cleanup on aisle 3!
Four out of four stars: Scientist ugly enough to be a Bond villain.
Four out of four stars: Just…death by tape dispenser.
Four out of four stars: Sadistic, sick laughter is still good laughter.
Four out of four stars: Being deep enough but never taking yourself too seriously.
Genelle Chaconas is queer, genderfluid, a sex positive feminist, over 30, an abuse survivor, and proud. They’re not interested in publication histories. They enjoy offbeat B movies; American Chinese takeout; experimental writing; William S. Burroughs; cut-ups; queer writing; dotting Ts and crossing Is; underwater basket weaving; Noise, Edm, Drone and Industrial music; and long walks off short piers. They are a regular film contributor to TL;DR magazine.