★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★★
A hyperviolent office revenge fantasy with a different kind of leading man.
This could be me. Let me emphasize this a little more. This is a horror-action movie that stars an Asian American man, in a role that almost always goes to the white guy. Or, in some cases, the black guy. But never the Asian American guy. Steven Yeun, fresh off playing everyone’s favorite everyman, Glen, in the seminal TV show The Walking Dead has his first leading role in a movie, and I think he made a really smart decision. He uses that sweet charm he displayed in The Walking Dead, along with his zombie-fighting chops, and parlayed that into a juicy and blood-soaked headlining action hero. Not the sidekick. Not the comic relief. The handsome LEAD… the film’s focus! (Hooray!)
Mayhem begins by describing a pandemic virus that has been sweeping the country. It’s a disease that exponentially increases a person’s ID impulses, and removes the moral and ethical inhibitors of a person’s behavior. Rage, lust, grief, fear, all kicked into overdrive. What’s more, a legal case has determined that people under the influence of this disease cannot be held accountable for their actions, so they get something of a free pass for becoming violent rage-monsters. Derek Cho (Yeun) is a young attorney at the law firm that created this questionable, but successful legal defense. Derek has been slowly been working his way up the corporate ladder, and one of his files involves meeting Melanie, a client who is trying to save her family’s failing mortgage (Current young actress of-the-moment Samara Weaving… who looks to be the next Margot Robbie), and he tells her that he can’t help her, and dismisses her case because his bosses call the shots and they’re a bunch of assholes. Not surprisingly, most everyone working at this office are the worst kind of lawyers possible, greedy, manipulative, and corrupt. Unfortunately for Derek, he has climbed up the corporate food chain, just high enough to become a fall guy for a botched account… and he gets fired.
Wouldn’t you know it, people start exhibiting symptoms of the virus! Beware of itchy red eyes. Just as Derek is being escorted out of the building, a quarantine drops, and everyone is told to hold tight for eight hours until the vaccine kicks in. Just enough time for… mayhem. It doesn’t take long before everyone at the building turns on each other. Derek, teaming up with Melanie, work a plan where they can both get revenge on the bastards on the top floor, but getting there won’t be easy with the madness that has struck the building. Nail guns, scissors, a circular saw, axes, fire extinguishers, golf clubs, anything that can be weaponized is turned melee ready. The movie progresses floor by floor with one bloody showdown after another. Derek and Melanie, naturally fall for each other (that virus makes you uninhibited romantically as well) and they take their fight all the way to the top, where the bosses are waiting.
The movie feels like a combination of Office Space, 28 Days Later, and The Purge, so it’s a bit too derivative elevate it to the first rank of horror films. It is a fun watch and is constantly engaging with a brisk pace and fun supporting characters. A close cousin movie of this is The Belko Experience, which I will watch and report on soon. (I will credit a sister-podcast Horror World & Reviews which inspired me to do a side-by-side review of Belko and Mayhem.) Mayhem is really tightly structured, and I always knew where I was in the plot. It helps that the motivations are very straightforward, and there is a countdown clock in the background which helps push the plot along. (Derek and Melanie can only exact their revenge while the quarantine is in effect.) I have no idea how this film did at the Box Office, as the financial figures don’t show up in Box Office Mojo or any other site, but I’m not too worried as I think the film was shot on a shoestring budget in Serbia (looks really good, considering). Weaving is going to have a long and prosperous career in front of her, having already gotten to walk the Golden Globes stage for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. She’s gorgeous, funny, and has some pretty good acting chops. What I hope is that Yeun has impressed enough to get another chance at a leading role in the genre soon. He’s proven himself a capable top of the bill actor. What I’d really like is to see him cast as Nightwing, in the DC Universe, but in order to go into that topic, I’d need to create a superhero blog.