For most horror fans, THE BELKO EXPERIMENT will warrant comparisons to BATTLE ROYALE and THE MIST, and in the case of the former, Orion/BH Tilt seem to be embracing the label.
To be honest, Greg McLean’s THE BELKO EXPERIMENT would really, supremely need to drop the ball in order for it to get on my bad side. A longtime fan of writer James Gunn (especially his gonzo SUPER), the buzz on BELKO from production onward posited the kind of ultraviolent film that lives in the space between harrowing and absurd that I so cherished in my youth. Yet I don’t think I could have imagined just how well BELKO would deliver the goods, offering an absolutely batshit insane and intense experience with the biggest on-screen body count outside of the action/war genre. It’s a fantastic showcase for both McLean and Gunn outside of their respective career paths, and one that- at the very least, creatively- continues Blumhouse’s cinematic hot streak as of late.
THE BELKO EXPERIMENT is a fairly simplistic project in nature: Belko Industries, a company that outsources American workers in countries ostensibly around the world, unexpectedly ramps up their security at one of their South American locations, sending local employees home while thoroughly vetting the remaining employees. Shortly after the work day begins, a mysterious voice appears on their office building’s loudspeaker, commanding the employees kill three employees in 30 minutes or six will be killed by outside forces. The baffled employees soon see the windows and doors shuttered by indestructible metal doors, and when the voice makes good on its threat, the employees are pitted against one another in a terrifying game of death.
For most horror fans, THE BELKO EXPERIMENT will warrant comparisons to BATTLE ROYALE and THE MIST, and in the case of the former, Orion/BH Tilt seem to be embracing the label. As they should, because THE BELKO EXPERIMENT does not pull its punches, and in every department where BATTLE ROYALE excelled, THE BELKO EXPERIMENT matches its move, whether it be with the plentiful gore, the sardonic humor, the colorful rogue’s gallery of characters, or the inventive ways in which people are disposed of. And while THE BELKO EXPERIMENT does have a fair share of heavy moments, especially around the mid-point of the film, the film mostly plants its feet in the realm of fun, genre movie territory; you get as much out of watching the heroes attempting to be resourceful and subversive as you do watch the villains go from good-natured employees with families and friends to full-on murderous monsters.
Perhaps what most keeps THE BELKO EXPERIMENT so exciting and insane is the rate of escalation, and how it affects each individual character. Of course, we get the obvious office pricks, creeps, and lackeys, but as this lean, mean flick counts down the clock, the stakes rise, desperation sets in, and we get a lot of genuine surprises in terms of the character arcs. When the tension finally boils over, the results are brutal: the violence here, while sometimes over-the-top, is never presented as anything but real, with executions, dismemberment, and head-explosions all presented in its graphic glory. In fact, in the film’s most intense and harrowing scene, McLean implements a Spanish version of “California Dreamin’” to horrifying use as things go absolutely haywire. On that note, it should be said that, while Gunn’s influence bleeds through every frame, kudos goes out to McLean, who offers a side of his directorial repertoire that we haven’t seen before: something much less serious than WOLF CREEK and ROGUE, but much more frenetic and chaotic than THE DARKNESS.
That said, THE BELKO EXPERIMENT is able to toe a tonal line thanks to a sharp, daring script and an incredible, diverse cast. John Gallagher Jr. continues to prove he’s one of the most promising talents in the genre with an emotionally-driven performance, while Adria Arjona also builds on her rising star with a role that’s a bit more complicated than one might initially think. Tony Goldwyn also impresses with the main antagonist role, undergoing an emotional transformation that will remind audiences just how versatile the underrated filmmaker/actor can be. And then there are myriad memorable turns throughout the film, from John C. McGinley’s sadistic performance as a low-level boss-gone-bad, a humbled twist from Michael Rooker, comically potent performances from Josh Brener, David Del Rio and Sean Gunn, and a phenomenally subtle turn from Melonie Diaz. There’s also a fantastic cameo from a James Gunn regular, although his yet-to-be-publicized appearance is too good to spoil here.
All in all, THE BELKO EXPERIMENT is the rare type of horror film that’s guaranteed to please gorehounds, horror-comedy lovers, and fans of cerebral genre flicks alike. The producers and distributors are taking a bold risk in letting this film unroll mostly unfettered, giving McLean a chance to spread his directorial wings while indulging the wilder, wicked side of James Gunn’s imagination. It’s an incredibly fun and twisted flick, and should its particular brand of madness catch on with audiences outside of horror enthusiasts, this writer hopes further experiments are in order for BELKO.