THE BELKO EXPERIMENT
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Director: Greg McLean
Written by: James Gunn
Cast: John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley, Josh Brener, Michael Rooker, Sean Gunn, Melonie Diaz
Screened at: Light Iron, 580 Broadway, 3/8/17
Opens: March 17, 2017
Sometimes a horror movie can serve as allegory to evoke an examination of some aspects of human behavior. “Frankenstein,” for example, is how a being who does not look like most of us fellows can be bullied and tormented to the point that he becomes enraged and dangerous. “Phantom of the Opera” is about sheer loneliness, about a man who through no fault of his own is disfigured and tormented by an unrequited love that compels him to kidnap a woman. “The Belko Experiment” looks like a sendup of social scientists who revel in exploring every aspect of human behavior in groups, but who in the audience is worrying about that? Horror fans want gore, blood, the more the better, and outside of full-scale war between countries, directors and screenwriters pile on the bodies as though working toward a record. How about 79? Is that the most bodies you hope to see in a horror movie? If so, you’ll treasure Greg McLean’s well edited look at a factory outside Bogotá, Colombia, where the Belko corporation looks over an unhappy landscape as a company whose motto is “We bring people together.” The bludgeons and shootings and knifings and butchering among eighty Americans who work for a corporation whose aim is to facilitate the employment of American workers abroad is ironic enough, but again, how many in the audience are looking for metaphors?
Greg McLean’s “Wolf Creek,” “Rogue,” and the “Darkness” put him firmly in the horror camp—dealing with an Australian psychopath who tortures backpackers, a crocodile that confronts a journalist and a family that returns from the Grand Canyon fighting for survival, respectively. In “The Belko Experiment” eighty Americans start the day in the Colombia-located corporate headquarters joking around, flirting, and telling people where to get off. Suddenly the loudspeakers are humming with a disembodied voice that challenges all to kill. After two people are killed via a small bomb that each has implanted in the back of the head (they thought it was for identification), the voice announces the ultimate game. If the employees do not kill thirty of their co-workers, the psycho will kill sixty. To make sure nobody escapes, metal shutters automatically close all windows. There is no way out. How do you think these friendly Americans will react? Do we really need to put these people to a test whose results are known in advance?
Witty dialogue is at a premium; multiple murders are the order of the day. And if thirty workers are killed, there is an additional hurdle. It’s a dog-eat-dog world. Some performers stand out in what is for the most part a claustrophobic experience, save for an opening scene in the Bogotá outdoor market. Second-in-command Wendell (John C. McGinley) is an expected killer since he stares at one of the attractive women compulsively to her disgust. The company boss, Barry (Tony Goldwyn) does his best to calm the crowd but when push comes to shove, he can be counted on to perform for the anonymous person who serves as his alpha male. The security guard overlooks the scene helplessly, though he is initially blamed, and we in the audience root for nice guy Mike (John Gallagher Jr.) who conducts an office romance with Leandra (Adria Arjona).
You may expect the final scene to bring everything together, the hostile wizard of Bogotá unmasked, revealing the point of all. But you may be disappointed to find out that the experiment is not what we think it’s cracked up to be rather than a look at office politics gone murderous without much point.
Rated R. 82 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
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