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The Belko Experiment, directed by Greg McLean and written by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy), could have done a lot more with its twisted premise, but as it stands, it’s still a pretty enjoyable B-movie.
80 American workers are trapped in The Belko Corporation’s high-rise corporate office in Bogotá, Colombia and ordered to partake in a deadly social experiment. There are explosive devices planted in the back of their heads and if they do not comply with their given instructions, they will be killed.
It’s an interesting premise that puts human nature to the test. Protagonist Mike Milch (John Gallagher Jr.), steadfastly refuses to even consider the possibility of killing any of his co-workers in order to survive, opting instead to try and find ways to circumvent the experiment or call out for help. His boss Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn) is far more ruthlessly pragmatic, quickly deciding that it might be necessary to kill a few to save the rest.
The Belko Experiment scores points for mostly having its characters act in ways that make sense. It takes a while before any kind of real panic settles in. Barry is the chief advocate for remaining calm and exploring possibilities early on, only turning violent once he realizes the gravity of the situation – and even then, it’s not treated as if the character’s suddenly flipped a switch.
A lot of the characters react in ways that seem both believable and genuine, which makes the unusual scenario easier to swallow and also means you’re less inclined to want to see them die. Weirdly enough, it’s Mike that often acts the most irrationally. He jumps to conclusions way too quickly early on – they’re sensible conclusions, it’s just that the timing of them is off. For instance, his immediate reaction after the first few people are killed via their heads being blown up is to grab a boxcutter, run to the nearest bathroom, lock himself in and try to cut his own tag out of his head.
It technically makes sense, but the escalation is too sudden and doesn’t match the measured way in which everyone else responds to what’s going on around them, making it seem jarring. In a later scene, Mike’s solution to resolving a tense stand-off with Barry and those backing him comes off as needlessly reckless and stupid. Moments like that don’t happen very often, but they definitely could have been handled better.
There are a lot of characters to keep track of, and while none of them are really annoying, they’re also not particularly interesting, which is another drawback – you may not root for any of them to die, but there’s little reason to care about which one of them lives. Leandra Florez, (Adria Arjona), Mike’s girlfriend, is on his side but is not as idealistic as he is about the whole thing. Wendell Dukes (John C. McGinley) is a gleefully creepy pervert. Michael Rooker dies way too quickly. The main hook of The Belko Experiment lies with its B-movie thrills, generated from the situation deteriorating and the body count climbing.
It’s an entertaining ride, with a good sense of humor to boot. Sean Gunn gets a lot of laughs as a paranoid stoner trying to make sense of what’s going on, and the movie spends a good amount of time setting up a particularly nasty punchline near the end involving another character that I won’t spoil here.
When all is said and done, you’ll probably have a good time, although you won’t feel as if much of anything has been achieved. The Belko Experiment doesn’t really have any profound revelations about human nature and any kind of social commentary it provides on corporate work environments is threadbare at best. The ending is gimmicky and a little too silly to have a real impact, and as mentioned, the characters aren’t nearly engaging to warrant getting really invested in their fate.
It’s a short, fun, bloody little B-movie that definitely has room for improvement, but has just enough bang for your buck. If the premise sounds interesting, you’ll probably get a kick out of it.