TIFF2016: The Belko Experiment

the-belko-experiment

It’s the steel doors that keep Mike (John Gallagher Jr.) from thinking its a practical joke. Heavy and impenetrable, they cover every window and exterior door in the Belko building, trapping the 80 employees inside. Only minutes earlier an ominous voice on the intercom told them they had to choose three employees to kill. The COO (Tony Goldwyn) doesn’t take it seriously. It’s just a practical joke, he says to calm down his staff. Someone’s just taking the piss, so take it easy, have some water and enjoy being away from your desk for awhile. But then people start dying. And the ominous voice comes back on: phase one complete; moving on to phase two.

Equal parts Battle Royale and The Office, The Belko Experiment takes office politics to an extreme, and incredibly violent, level. It doesn’t matter whether they’re a mechanic, chef, salesman, janitor, computer programmer, or executive. Once the thin veneer of job titles that they hide behind are stripped away the characters are left with a simple choice: kill or be killed. Obviously, this being a Midnight Madness movie, the characters don’t sit around waxing philosophical about the immorality of the situation or how quickly we give in to our survival instinct; they start grabbing knives, blowtorches, pistols, shovels, staplers, and anything else that resembles a weapon and begin spilling blood.

Wisely, the characters in the film are categorized into three groups: the staunch pacifists, the reluctant participants, and the scarily enthusiastic thugs. Throughout the nightmare, office employees float between these groups – often selfishly joining the one that offers them the greatest chance of survival at that moment. It’s fun to see how the different approaches play out – such as the pacifists trying to get the attention of the outside world to circumvent the whole “killing each other” thing to the thugs rationalizing their brutality by saving employees with kids but then coldly murdering the elderly (and anyone who disagrees with them, or that they just plain don’t like).

This clever distinction between the characters is all but abandoned for the inevitable gruesome showdown in Phase Three, which despite all the creative killings and unrelenting chaos, starts to feel a bit repetitive when everyone is acting like a monster.

The Belko Experiment has a great premise, diverse characters, thrilling action, close calls, and makes you wonder what you would do in such a scenario. Probably just hide in a ventilation shaft.

Grade: B+

Sidenote: There’s some stomach-churning scenes when employees are lined up against a wall to be executed. Even though I’m pretty jaded when it comes to movie violence (it’s all make-believe after all), it was pretty hard to watch weeping co-workers face the inevitable end of their lives at the hands of their friends and colleagues. I prefer violence coming from over-the-top caricatures rather than the coldly calculating perpetrators that seemed all too real in these scenes.

 

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