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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

The Belko Experiment movie review: team-killing exercise

The Belko Experiment red light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

A one-note scenario that never ups the ante on itself, and never even bothers to use its extreme situation to send up office politics or corporate policies.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

There’s a lot of gore, much of it quite gruesome and in your face (what’s left of people’s faces onscreen get in your face, that is), but there’s not much in the way of the satire promised by the premise.tweet The Belko Experiment sounds like it’s gonna be Saw meets Office Space, or a corporate Hunger Games: 80 international employees at a Belko office outside Bogota are locked into the building one morning and informed via the intercom that they need to kill a few of their coworkers, and if they don’t, their mysterious games masters will kill even more of them as punishment.

And that’s pretty much it: this is a one-note scenario that soon comes to the obvious (and previously well-explored) conclusion that many seemingly “nice” people will quickly morph into bullies and toadies who mindlessly obey authority, any authority, even when they are being instructed to do the most terrible things to their fellow human beings. The film never ups the ante on itself from there, and never even bothers to use its extreme situation to send up, say, office politicstweet or corporate policies.

You’ve got red on you...

You’ve got red on you…tweet

We are offered only a vague idea of what the company does — something to do with helping other corporations recruit new employees — and its mottos, plastered around the building, include such intentionally meaningless blather as “Bringing the World Together” and “Business Without Boundaries.” It certainly sounds like whatever the company does is bullshit B Ark makework, so maybe the movie is going to posit that a homicidal corporate exercise would be a good way to get rid of all the people who don’t do anything useful or contribute anything significant to society? Nope. So we should at least learn what these Belko workers are to one another, what their petty grievances and secret office crushes are, and how that might impact how they react to being ordered to kill. That guy who always burns his popcorn in the kitchen microwave: he should die first, right? But we never get anything like that either, beyond being informed that the putative hero, Mike (John Gallagher Jr.: 10 Cloverfield Lane, Short Term 12), the one guy who doesn’t instantly leap to murder, has a romantic relationship with Leandra (Adria Arjona), and even that is woefully underdeveloped. We never get any sense of office hierarchy prior to the moment when COO Barry (Tony Goldwyn: Insurgent, The Mechanic) decides it’s up to him to choose who lives and who dies.

Written by Guardians of the Galaxy and Slither’s James Gunn and directed by Greg McLean of Wolf Creek fame, The Belko Experiment should have been a can’t-miss proposition. But it is as empty an exercise as any workplace team-building nonsense,tweet and it doesn’t even seem to realize it.

Click here for my ranking of this and 2017’s other theatrical releases.

red light 2 stars

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The Belko Experiment (2017) | directed by Greg McLean
US/Can release: Mar 17 2017
UK/Ire release: Apr 21 2017

MPAA: rated R for strong bloody violence throughout, language including sexual references, and some drug use
BBFC: rated 18 (strong bloody violence, gory images)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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