When directors get the green light to make their passion projects, it often winds up on one of the two extreme ends. They either step outside of their normal box and create something that’s amazing (Denzel Washington’s Fences), or they make something that’s pretentious and unbelievably dull (Martin Scorsese’s Silence). Unfortunately Guardian’s of the Galaxy director, James Gunn’s pet writing project, The Belko Experiment, falls somewhere in the middle.
The film is set in the rural countryside outside of Bogota, Columbia at an American company. The local works arrive one morning to find new heavily armed security guards doing enhanced checks on everyone heading into the building. Most of the employees are Americans and are passed along without incident. Inside the employees start up another regular day, making calls to other companies promoting the hiring of Americans in Latin American companies.
The employees begin to notice that everyone turned away at security were Columbians, leaving only American nationals in the building. Suddenly the building begins to seal itself up with heavy blast shutters closing over the entire surface. An unknown voice comes over the intercom telling everyone that they have to pick two of their coworkers to kill otherwise the voice would kill additional employees at random. They think it’s some kind of bad joke and ignore the warning. Suddenly individual’s heads begin to explode. At first fearing snipers, they discover that what they had thought were implanted tracking devices to combat kidnappings are actually small remote-controlled charges. The voice returns again and tells everyone that hey have two hours to kill thirty more of their coworkers. If they don’t comply, then a total of sixty will be killed. Now the race is on for the remaining employees to determine what do do, and who to kill.
It’s a solid enough of a premise, with a quickly established level of gore (the backs of the blown-out heads are shown in full color). Directed by Greg McLean, known for his mini-series Wolf Creek, the film has all the elements that it should have needed to be good, including a great cast made up of John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Josh Brener, and Michael Rooker. It’s quick paced, it’s tense in places, characters are chasing each other through the building even as the timer counts down.
Gallagher plays Mick Milch, the company’s senior systems engineer who is the voice of compassion for his fellow man. When the others start howling for blood he tries to reign them in. At the opposite end of the spectrum Goldwn plays Barry Norris, the company COO who pulls everyone together at the beginning, but as soon as it’s clear that the voice isn’t joking he doesn’t lose any time in picking out which employees to start killing off.
The film has lots of characters, none of which do we really connect with. Long before the end the exploding heads and stab wounds all blur together and we’ve really no idea who’s still alive and don’t really care. By the end of it all, the audience is just rather numb from the killing and the only remaining curiosity isn’t who lives but rather only who’s behind it all (and why).
Belko was another one of those films that I’d gone in to really wanting to be able to love, given my fondness of both Gunn’s work as well as violent splatter-fests. Instead Belko is just an alright film, perhaps save it for when it lands on Netflix.
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