The Belko Experiment is a Half-Baked Bloodbath
The Belko Experiment
Review by Daniel Rester
The Belko Experiment is the latest film to use the “kill or be killed” plot element, similar to films such as Battle Royale (2000), The Condemned (2007), and The Hunger Games (2012). James Gunn, now known for his work on Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), cooked up the screenplay years ago — and it is apparently based on one of his dreams. Given that Gunn and director Greg McLean — Wolf Creek (2005) — were involved with The Belko Experiment, it makes it all the more disappointing that film ultimately feels half-baked.
Gunn’s story revolves around 80 Americans who work for Belko Industries in Bogotá, Colombia. The people work typical office jobs, but in a large high-rise in a remote location. The central players include every-man employee Mike (John Gallagher Jr.), his girlfriend Leandra (Adria Arjona), COO Barry (Tony Goldwyn), and office pervert Wendell (John C. McGinley).
One day at work, a mysterious voice comes over the intercom and tells everyone that two of them must be dead within thirty minutes or more of them will die. Steel panels then cover all of the doors and windows in order to prevent escape. This is just the beginning of the voice’s “social experiment,” and the Belko employees begin to react differently to the circumstances as they are presented.
Given the twisted premise and the talent involved on both sides of the camera, The Belko Experiment could have been a home run of a horror-thriller. It does start out strong and works for about the first half in its short 88-minute length. McLean keeps the various situations brisk but tense throughout as well, and Gunn’s writing is occasionally sharp.
Unfortunately The Belko Experiment is a mixed bag of horror in the end. The second half of the film simply drops the ball as it becomes apparent that the film isn’t interested in revealing surprising plot elements or injecting the plot with a hit of meaningful satirical commentary. Instead it just goes for the obvious in terms of which characters become killers, and then it hits the repeat button on bashing and shooting heads. I’m all for gore in my horror movies as long as it is earned and effective. While McLean does present his gore skillfully, it all becomes repetitive, numbing, and dull after a while because the story goes exactly where you expect.
The cast tries to push the material further than it deserves, but not many of the actors are given more than one note to play. Gallagher Jr. has been impressing me as an up-and-coming star the past few years, delivering strong performances in films such as Short Term 12 (2013), 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016), and Hush (2016). The Belko Experiment is no different, as Gallagher Jr. is the best part of the film as he makes Mike believable, relatable, and likable all at once.
Goldwyn and McGinley are also clearly having fun in their villainous roles, though both alternate between being creepy and hammy. The only others that really pop are familiar faces in small roles, such as Michael Rooker as a mechanic and Sean Gunn (Jame’s brother) as an anxious stoner. The film tries to make Melonie Diaz’s character Dany (a new Belko worker) an interesting supporting player, but the film spends a lot of time with her to little effect.
The Belko Experiment isn’t completely terrible, and it remains watchable for die-hard horror fans. But the movie has a lot of wasted potential, disappointing with its underdeveloped story and boring bloodshed. The year 2017 has already put forward a few horror-thriller gems — such as Split and Get Out. Unfortunately The Belko Experiment doesn’t rank among them.
My Grade: C+ (on an F to A+ scale).
My Viewing Scale: Skip It, Wait for Cable or Netflix Streaming, Wait for Blu-ray or VOD Rental, Worth Matinee Movie Ticket, Worth Full-Price Movie Ticket
MPAA Rating: R (for strong bloody violence throughout, language including sexual references, and some drug use).