REVIEW: The Belko Experiment is horrifyingly resonant

New horror film The Belko Experiment preys upon the twisted mind games people play in their heads: If everyone in this room were trapped and told to kill one another, what would they do? Who would try to make alliances? Who would throw the first punch? Would most people try to hide or go right into the fight? What are possible weapons? Greg McLean’s The Belko Experiment, which premiered March 17, answers these questions in a hilariously thrilling and extremely graphic horror movie.

The movie begins with a normal day at Belko, an American company in Colombia. But Mike Melch (John Gallagher Jr.), the protagonist and an employee at Belko, notices that something is off — all the locals are gone and there is extra security in the company.

Suddenly, thick metal walls cover every window, trapping the employees inside. A mysterious voice booms over a speaker, commanding the employees to kill each other. Everyone assumes it is a dark, twisted prank, and chaos breaks loose, until COO Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn) gathers everyone in the lobby to discuss options. No one has cellular reception or Internet to contact the outside world; they are completely trapped.

At this point, the employees, and likewise the audience, wonder how the mysterious voice will enforce its devilish demands, until an employee’s head explodes. Then, more employees’ heads explode. The film’s weakest point, but necessary for the premise, explains that every employee had a tracking chip implanted in their head so that they could be found if they were kidnapped. The tracking chip is also an explosive.

Now the voice says that either the employees kill 30 people or they will explode 60. This is where the movie shines; it does not dwell on ethical arguments about what’s right, who deserves to live or other heavy questions. It does not pretend to be concerned with grand statements on morality — it’s about watching people kill each other in vivid bloody detail.

Also a little convenient, the company has a storage of guns which allows most of the deaths to be quick and easy — although still extremely bloody. Of course there are the campier, gorier deaths by office supplies. Highlights include death by kitchen knives, a paper cutter and a roll of tape.

The Belko Experiment follows in the tradition of elimination style action and horror movies like Hunger Games and Saw. It is most similar to Battle Royale, a Japanese movie with almost exactly the same premise except it is  set in a high school.

Different from other iterations of a similar premise is The Belko Experiment’s strong sense of humor. It takes the cliches and boredom of office life to a brutal extreme; when an employee getting viciously murdered in a bathroom, it cuts to the bloodied “Employees Must Wash Their Hands” sign. Spanish pop music blasts over gruesome deaths to lighten the mood. Speaking at the movie’s screening at the School of Cinematic Arts, director Greg McClain admits that he sees the movie as “silly.” The sentiment is not an insult to the work, but rather an accurate description of the niche it seeks to fill — high energy, thrilling, cheeky violence.

The film has a few beautiful shots — of course they are of people killing each other, but with some great moments of cinematography. The lighting changes from the normal world of sunlight and fluorescent office lights to a more surreal abstracted lighting lit by red lights and fire as the carnage gets worse.

McClain briefly discusses possible messages of the film, like the evils of corporatism and the devaluation of human life, but even he does not seem particularly convinced. A fun frantic movie for those with strong stomachs, The Belko Experiment delivers.