Skull-Crushing Belko a Thrilling Corporate Retreat
For the 80 U.S. employees allowed into work, the day starts out like any other for the staff working in the Bogotá, Colombia office of the Belko Corporation. But executive Mike Milch (John Gallagher Jr.) notices a lot of weird things happening, including a handful of armed soldiers taking up residence in the empty warehouse the company keeps vacant next to the main building. But before he can tell COO Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn) about his suspicions, a strange voice comes over the intercom ordering the staff to kill two of their own in 30 minutes, and if they do not the consequences will be lethally dire.
Of course, no one believes the order, everyone heading down to the lobby in order to evacuate until they can all figure out what is going on. Problem is, they’re all locked in, the landlines have been cut and their cell phones are jammed. Worse, this is not a gag, and as the group refused to follow through on the voice’s commands four random employees drop dead thanks to explosive charge inserted into everyone’s neck, done by Belko under what now everyone realizes were maliciously false pretenses. Now they all have two hours to kill 30 of their coworkers, otherwise 60 will die in the same manner, Mike and Barry suddenly on opposite ends of the moral and ethical spectrum as the majority of the remaining staff turns to them for guidance.
Made up of a cast of familiar faces, including the likes of Gallagher, Goldwyn, Michael Rooker, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Brent Sexton, David Del Rio, Rusty Schwimmer and Gregg Henry, and featuring “True Detective” and “Emerald City” newcomer Adria Arjona in a key supporting role, writer James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy) and director Greg McLean (The Darkness) join forces to bring to life a dirty, adrenaline-filled exploitation thriller that takes corporate malfeasance to a whole new level. It’s the most dangerous game only played by players who are tasked with being hunter and prey at the same time whether they want to be or not, each individual coming to grips with the fact they’re going to have to get their hands a little dirty if they ever hope to survive.
It’s incredibly straightforward, which isn’t a huge surprise where it comes to McLean, his most well-regarded films, Aussie horror-thrillers Wolf Creek and Rogue, stating right up front what kind of story they were going to tell and then never wavering to do just that all the way through to the bitter end. Same time, the fact there aren’t a lot of unexpected twists or turns as it pertains to Gunn’s script is something of a shock, especially when one looks at the filmmaker’s own pre-Marvel work churning out deliriously original, comedic-tinged shockers like Slither and Super. His surrealistic approach appears to have been mostly held in check, however, McLean’s frank, sadistically nihilistic style emerging victorious as far as this film is concerned.
Thankfully, even as unoriginal as the central premise might be, the tension the filmmakers are able to generate utilizing it is still unnervingly high. Once the first head explodes suspense skyrockets into the stratosphere as the stakes continue to get raised, and watching Gallagher do his best to navigate through this bloody corporate morass while attempting to maintain his moral center is a delectably grisly treat. Additionally, Goldwyn and McGinley prove to be fearsome adversaries, their growing psychotic malevolence as the situation continues to spiral out of control delivered with suitably intense relish. Arjona also makes a significant impact upon the proceedings, and while her character arc isn’t always satisfying, she has a couple of moments that are undeniably strong, a toxic showdown with McGinley in particular.
Thing is, as well as all of this is staged and acted, as strong as many individual sequences are, much like Wolf Creek McLean states exactly what this movie is going to do and where things are going to go and then doesn’t do a single thing to subvert those objectives at any time. Gunn’s screenplay, while filled with interesting characters, many of whom manage to steal a moment or two to make themselves more memorable, never offers up a twist or a plays any of its cards out of order. Thus, all of this ends up becoming far more predictable than it needed to be, everything building to a rather benign final scene that left me vaguely underwhelmed.
Still, when it is hitting on all cylinders this is one terrifying jolt to the system that had me squirming in my seat yelping in concern as if the cushions were made out of razor blades. My anxiety level through the majority of this was off the charts, a few of the more grisly deaths provoking an emotional response that had me choking back a small handful of authentically generated tears. A number of the actors, most notably Schwimmer, Rooker and Diaz, manage to do a lot with so very little, the look on their faces at any given moment enough to make me want to hold my breath in the hope they’d find a way to survive this carnage and emerge victorious.
If the movie doesn’t always do the same, that does not mean I ever wanted to look away from the screen or to exit the theatre. While Gunn and McLean don’t rewrite the company handbook, they still do a good enough job bullet pointing the important stuff to make reading it worthwhile, The Belko Experiment a corporate retreat of butchery and slaughter that takes team building to a heretofore unexplored level of a skull-crushing commitment.
Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)