Monday 10 April 2017

The Belko Experiment (USA 2016: Dir Greg McLean)

The Belko Corporation (strapline: 'business without boundaries') specialises in sourcing US staff for South American employers. Its remote office block building in Bogota, Colombia, houses all the employees needed to make the company run. But one morning the workers are surprised by a strange voice over the PA announcing that the staff need to kill two of their members within a certain time or face the consequences. The building automatically locks itself down, and the workers, now shut in without possible means of escape, must comply with the increasingly aggressive demands of the faceless voice, requiring the employees to turn on themselves and kill each other in a bid to stay alive themselves.

The Belko Experiment, Greg McLean's sprightly follow up to last year's less than successful supernatural movie The Darkness, sees him borrowing heavily from Kinju Fukasaku's 2009 movie Battle Royale (and a little from the Saw franchise) and delivering a mix of horror and humour which elevates a thin premise into something very watchable.

Written by James Gunn (probably most famous for penning the wisecracking 2014 movie Guardians of the Galaxy), the script has great fun playing with the stereotypes of office life - the office pedant and the 'token' disabled person, for example - and how the various strata of the company respond to the threats of danger and possibilities of survival. I also liked the idea of reversing the concept, portraying the Americans as expendable migrant labourers in a foreign country.

There's some quality acting on display here too: John Gallagher Jr (10 Cloverfield Lane) as Mike Milch is as close as the movie gets to a hero, albeit a rather flawed one, and there's terrific support from a sleazy John C McGinley and Michael Rooker. Sean Gunn's turn as office stoner Marty also produces a few smiles and Puerto Rican born Adria Arjona wields the office stationery very effectively.

Of course the setup requires that it's only so long before any of the characters winds up dead, whether by the hands of their co-workers or the mysterious forces behind the whole set up (who are able to carry out murders at a distance by detonating a 'chip' implanted into the necks of every member of staff, ostensibly there to help track the employee in the dangerous Colombian locale). And while the 'who's going to die next and by whose hand?' premise could become tiresome, the dark sense of humour that permeates the film keeps things interesting, and McLean is effective at directing action on a budget (see also his overlooked 2007 killer croc movie Rogue).

However as the film progresses the mood darkens. The powerplay among the CEO and senior managers in attempting to assume control (even though the control is really out of their hands) - and the inevitable workers revolt - leads to some scenes which are genuinely unsettling; I swear you'll never look at a Sellotape dispenser in the same way. The Belko Experiment offers no redemptive ending but instead presents us with a micro view of society in breakdown which, and with not too much imagination, has resonances with contemporary global abuses of power.

No comments:

Post a Comment