Star Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
It’s not very often a film can be as violent as The Belko Experiment and also smart. The last film in recent memory that felt fresh and exciting while also having a fun, smart, and intelligent premise was The Cabin in the Woods. But, where The Cabin in the Woods managed to subvert traditional horror tropes, The Belko Experiment attempts to draw more out of the traditional horror film by asking questions about human behavior in the midst of trials and confusion. In a way, The Belko Experiment is a lot like the first film in the Saw franchise. It’s clever, with a decent cast, and it manages to make a statement about humanity while also delivering enough gore and violence to make anyone squirm.
For such a low budget film, The Belko Experiment features an amazing cast. Some might recognize John Gallagher Jr. from HBO’s The Newsroom or last years 10 Cloverfield Lane, Tony Goldwyn from Scandal, Adria Arjona from Emerald City and True Detective, John C. McGinley from Scrubs, Melonie Diaz from Room 104, Sean Gunn from Gilmore Girls and Guardians of the Galaxy, Michael Rooker from Walking Dead and Guardians of the Galaxy, and Josh Brener from Silicon Valley. Each and every one of these actors brings some of their best in a film that could easily get caught up in featuring more screen time of one star over another.
The film takes place at Belko Industries an American company in Colombia that specializes in helping other American businesses transition a presence to other countries. When our cast of characters arrive to work one day they all notice a new set of security guards have taken the place of the buildings normal security guards. After a brief introduction to the friendships that some of these people hold in their office, a voice comes over the building’s intercom declaring that a game has started. The inhabitants are told to kill 2 people in 30 minutes or else more will die. At first, the patrons of Belko Industries are hesitant and try to escape the building. When they are all locked in the building together, and the panic sets in, the film turns into a battle royale amongst the worker to see who will survive this horrifying experiment.
The unfortunate side-effect of this film being written by James Gunn (the recent Marvel super, and director of Guardians of the Galaxy) is that the director’s unique talent and vision are almost non-existent. In the same way that True Romance is considered a Quentin Tarantino film even though he only wrote the script, The Belko Experiment looks and feels like a James Gunn film. His unique sense of a dark humor is constantly present throughout the film. One of the funniest scenes in the movie takes place when one office worker is beating the snot out of another office worker while an orientation video plays in the background talking about how Belko will prepare its workers for everything life throws at them. It’s dark and horrifying, but you can’t help laughing because of how ridiculous it is. It’s similar to how over the top Office Space can be while also being an incredibly relatable and referential film.
As I mentioned about, the film does an excellent job of balancing its time between all of the famous faces in the cast. It even gives a lot of screen time to some of the minor characters in the film. While the main characters are split between the right and wrong of killing co-workers, some of the minor characters are focused on keeping their heads down and hiding out until the entire ordeal ends. Because the screen time is so balanced with all of the characters, it makes you question who will survive. There were several moments throughout the film where I wondered if one of the minor characters would survive over a main character because of how much attention they were receiving. It’s a neat trick that gives some emotional weight to characters that would otherwise be overlooked in a film that focuses on a group more than individual characters.
While the script is beautifully written, and actually very clever with a lot of interesting psychological insights, the nature of the film does somewhat lessen the impact of the message. For every great moment of psychological insight and truth, there are about ten gruesome deaths. This is, after all, a film where people are forced to kill each other to survive. For the people that prefer a gory horror film over something with more suspense, The Belko Experiment has that in abundance. There are plenty of instances of gruesome deaths that make you cringe. There’s enough blood and violence to make almost make you forget the deeper thoughts the film has. It even ends in typical horror film style, by hinting at a franchise (something viewers and film studios love), which is really disappointing.
The Belko Experiment was a surprisingly enjoyable film. I was fully prepared to be disappointed by misleading marketing, but it ended up being exactly what I thought it would be. James Gunn has proven himself to be a smart writer with his own brand of humor that works for a dark and violent film like this. The actors chosen for this film ensure that the film isn’t lacking in any emotional weight as the events transpire around them. The actors even help avoid the typical horror film cliche of having sub-par or breakout actors. Many of the actors in this film have already established careers, which means the studio wasn’t scraping the bottom of the barrel for its stars. Any fan of horror films will thoroughly enjoy this film. Thriller fans will also enjoy this film. I’d even highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys a deeper examination of humanity, as long as you can get past all the blood.