TIFF 2016 Review: The Belko Experiment fails the test.
One of my most anticipated films premiering at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival was The Belko Experiment written by James Gunn. When the trailer for the film leaked online prior to the premiere, I was so intrigued by the concept that I made it one of top priorities to see the Midnight Madness World Premiere. The Belko Experiment premiered to a very enthusiastic crowd at the Ryerson Theater on Saturday, September 10, 2016.
Before the film began, James Gunn and Greg McLean took to the stage to introduce the film. According to Gunn, the script for Belko Experiment was written about 10 years ago and sat in a drawer in his desk at home. The Belko Experiment tells the story of 80 ordinary people who go to work, just like they do every other day. One morning, a voice comes over the intercom and informs the staff that they are on lockdown and the only way to get out of the building is to kill one another. The last person standing will be deemed the winner and will be allowed to return to their normal daily life.
I wish there was more to The Belko Experiment besides the plot that I just described above but unfortunately, there isn’t. After about fifteen minutes of watching people slaughter one another on-screen, I began to stop caring and began to wonder, “What is the point of all this?” I sat there for another 70 minutes waiting for an impressive “grand reveal” but that never happened. Instead, I was faced with a half-assed reveal that wasn’t nearly as smart or clever as Gunn believed it should have been.
The Belko Experiment is a huge disappointment from start to finish. With such a talented cast that includes John Gallagher Jr, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Tony Goldwyn, and Michael Rooker, I am baffled how bland and stupid this film turned out to be. The story attempts to set everything up and fails to give the audience any reason to like or care about anyone in the film.
Gallagher Jr plays the typical nice guy, McGinley plays the douchebag, Diaz plays the new girl, and all the other characters play some sort of caricature of people you would find in a typical office setting. The film gives you no backstory on any of the characters. The entire runtime is spent watching one character after another being killed off. There is plenty of blood and gore for those who love that sort of stuff but there isn’t any substance to any of it. There are scenes where people are killed off with a bullet to the head or get mangled in an elevator shaft. It’s over the top violence, just for the hell of it.
I understand that there is a group of moviegoers that get some sort of sick joy out of watching people get killed in movies. I, personally, need some sort of purpose for spending 90 minutes watching a film with non-stop over the top violence. I am not saying that I need a complex storyline but at least give me a few characters to care about and some sort of reason to sit through your film. This was pure gore-porn and exists simply because Gunn could finally make the film with all his Guardians money.
To makes matters worse, the Belko Experiment is predictable and repetitive. You know exactly who is going to live from about five minutes in and the kills aren’t all that impressive. For a film that is aimed specifically towards fans of the horror genre and midnight madness, you would think there would be some sort of purpose other than to haphazardly attempt to setup a sequel.
In a lot of ways, The Belko Experiment oddly enough reminded me of Free Fire, which also premiered at the festival, two days earlier. While I wasn’t doing cartwheels after seeing that film either, I can at least admit that Free Fire had somewhat of a story and a few characters that I could connect with and root for. The Belko Experiment offers its audience nothing besides violence that oddly enough is more boring than it is entertaining.
To be honest, this film could have been something special if it only had a kick-ass ending. The ending of The Belko Experiment is so lazy and such a cop-out. It felt like Gunn wanted to pull the carpet out from under the audience but just didn’t know how to do it. The whole “pull back” grand reveal wasn’t the least bit shocking or effective. Please don’t even get me started on how stupid the whole “pebble explosions” scene.
As much as it pains me to say this, The Belko Experiment is the worst film that I saw at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. It was definitely not worth my time or the two hours of sleep that I gave up to watch it. James Gunn had to know that the script sucked otherwise it wouldn’t have taken him 10 years to bring it to life. The Belko Experiment isn’t the worst film of the year but instead one of the year’s biggest disappointments.
As someone who has always been a fan of Gunn’s independent work such as Super and Slither, The Belko Experiment is a major step backwards. The film feels like the work of a first-time writer rather than someone as gifted and talented as Gunn is. The Belko Experiment fails because it wastes the talent of everyone involved. It’s not entertaining but instead just plain stupid. The story had a lot of promise yet Gunn had no idea how to make it work. The Belko Experiment fails the test.
Scott “Movie Man” Menzel’s final rating for The Belko Experiment is a 3 out of 10.