★★ out of ★★★★★
A pointlessly violent movie about pointless violence in the office.
And you thought you had a bad day at the office? The Belko Experiment had a good bit of promise to it. I thought the premise sounded fascinating. American ex-pats working in Colombia for a non-profit organization, the Belko Group, end up getting sealed into their office building by people unknown and are told that they need to start killing their colleagues until further notice is given. The leverage that the voice over the office intercom has is that the tracking devices that were placed IN THEIR SKULLS were not actually kidnapping tracking devices but miniature bombs. Why you need a tracking device in the back of your skull rather than on a key fob, or at worst, somewhere in your forearm seemed to go without notice to the staff.
Frustrating. That’s my one-word description for this movie. Violence would be another apt word, but I tuned in for the violence. This movie has a very large cast that gets winnowed down in a hurry. The character arcs that exist are largely limited to: stress makes people do terrible things, and people prone to violence will go there. Not exactly the most insightful bit of psychology, but there you go. Michael Rooker is in the movie, and he doesn’t get much to do, unfortunately. I thought for sure he was going to bring the full ROOKER, but I got the sense that he was doing this as a favor for writer James Gunn, between takes that he was doing for Guardians of the Galaxy II with Gunn. John C. McGinley plays his usual dickish heavy, and Tony Goldwyn is the reasonably charismatic boss from hell. John Gallagher Jr., who I really enjoyed watching in the TV Show “The Network”, is the poster child for frustrating characters for me. He’s the erstwhile protagonist in the movie, playing the voice of reason, if not the pacifist. You spend a good portion of the movie wishing he would either gain some courage, or at least organize a resistance against the aggressive office assailants. The female lead in the movie, is Adria Arjona, who blandly slums through the movie, and when called upon to take action doesn’t show that she’s had much experience chopping wood.
The opening scenes of the movie are actually engaging and curious. What would you do in this situation? The best and most tense scene in the movie was the selection sequence, but I would have really loved to have seen them go through and decide… “Hey, let’s get rid of this guy, because he’s pretty much a dirtbag.” (John C. McGinley, wink! wink!) Alas, they didn’t do the lifeboat scene, and there was no vote. Pretty much everybody gets wiped out in this movie, in a reductive circle of death. The Belko Experiment does give you glimpses of lots of characters, but in the end, when they forget to fully flesh out the primary protagonists, it fails to inspire anything more than a passing wince as the characters turn on each other. There is no real emotional connection to anybody in the movie. One of the characters who is sympathetic, is Melonie Diaz’ character, the new hire, Dany. But after playing the sneaky survivor through the film, the perfunctory end to her story is one of the most frustrating of all. Nobody gets a noble conclusion. There is no sacrifice. The situation devolves into “Everybody for yourself!” and the film suffers for it.
At one point in the movie, it is pointed out that the whole situation is moot since, in the end, nobody will survive because whoever is perpetrating these directives isn’t going to want the word to get out in public. And that was prophetic. The whole film felt a bit moot. What’s the point? Why is this horrible experiment being foisted on these people? There is a brief, but wholly unsatisfying answer at the conclusion, and left me feeling… all that violence, and nothing for it? This sole survivor trope has been explored before, and in much better ways in The Hunger Games, and Battle Royale. And, if what you want to see is to see your office-wrecking fantasy come true, I would suggest the superior film, also from 2017, Mayhem.