The Belko Experiment
dir Greg McLean
scr James Gunn
prd James Gunn, Peter Safran
with John Gallagher Jr, Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Michael Rooker, Owain Yeoman, Sean Gunn, James Earl, David Del Rio, Rusty Schwimmer, Gregg Henry
release US 17.Mar.17, UK 21.Apr.17
16/US 1h29
The Belko Experiment
Work is hell: Arjona and Gallagher

goldwyn diaz rooker
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Belko Experiment An underlying nihilism makes this horror thriller difficult to watch: ghastly violence for no discernible reason. The set-up is intriguing, combining petty office politics with the kill-or-be-killed ethos of movies like Battle Royale or The Hunger Games. But with no hint of social commentary, it's actually more like Saw. So it's only watchable due to the strong cast.

On the outskirts of Bogota, workers arrive for another day at Belko, a nonprofit connecting North American workers with South American companies. Then there's an announcement: two people must die in the next two minutes. And then 30 people in the next two hours. As the anarchy erupts, tech guy Mike (Gallagher) proves to have an unusually level head, as opposed to boss Barry (Goldwyn), who immediately goes for the guns stored in security. But it's Dany (Diaz), on her first day on the job, who proves most adept at keeping out of sight.

There are additional details that create the claustrophobic setting, from impenetrable shutters and blocked phone signals to insurance-mandated tracer chip implants that turn out to be equipped with an explosive charge. So the disembodied voice (Henry) running this vile experiment can viciously kill anyone with the flick of a switch. This allows the filmmakers to indulge in some outrageously grisly sequences, during which they eliminate all the extras before starting through the principal cast.

Gallagher, Goldwyn and Diaz bring terrific flashes of personality to the tenacious Mike, the trigger-happy Barry and the quietly resourceful Dany, respectively. And a few other figures emerge amid the fray, including McGinley's nutcase stalker, Rooker's bullheaded maintenance man and Earl's stubborn security guard. Arjona does what she can with a character who's little more than Mike's terrified girlfriend. And most of the the smaller roles are filled with actors who know how to steal a scene.

So it's frustrating that the characters are essentially defined by one trait each, leaving all of them ultimately too simplistic to root for. And as it goes along, it becomes clear that this monstrous game is merely being orchestrated by a sadist. Which isn't interesting at all. The Colombian setting is only used because the threat of kidnapping requires tracer chips; Once that's explained, the filmmakers forget it (idiotically, trapped employees write help messages in English to alert passersby). Audiences who enjoy watching a lot of people die horribly will love this. And we should worry about them.

cert 18 themes, language, violence 7.Apr.17

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