James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, Slither) is one of the premiere screenwriters working in Hollywood today, but his near-spotless track record doesn’t save the latest film credited with his writing, The Belko Experiment, from disappointing mediocrity. It’s too bad, as the premise alone should have made for an exciting moviegoing experience, but the self-seriousness, uninspired filmmaking, and extremely underwhelming ending results in a messy, unrewarding watch.
The poster for the The Belko Experiment cites it as a sort of “Office Space meets Battle Royale,” but the comparison to Office Space starts and ends with the fact that it’s set inside an office building, and it’s only like Battle Royale in that it’s central idea revolves around a group of people who are forced to murder each other. Unfortunately, The Belko Experiment isn’t nearly as hilarious as Office Space, nor as exciting as Battle Royale.
In The Belko Experiment, a Colombian office high-rise is suddenly shut down and its exterior barricaded by thick metal paneling, trapping its 80 employees inside. A mysterious voice announces over the intercom that there must be 30 of the employees dead within two hour’s time, or else 60 will lose their lives. This is initially taken as a sick joke, but when a number of employees violently drop dead from an explosive chip that’s been placed within their skulls (originally said to be for security measures in case the employees go missing), the situation becomes deadly serious.
We very quickly become acquainted with about a dozen of the 80 employees, while the rest are relegated to simply being fodder extras. As the number of remaining employees dwindle, the ones that survive the longest unsurprisingly belong to the speaking roles. It’s hard to care about the life or death of any of the 80 employees, however, as the main characters are almost as cardboard cutout as the nameless extras who die left and right. Only a couple of the speaking roles belong to characters that are at all interesting to watch, but these few (including Michael Rooker and Sean Gunn’s characters) are among the characters who receive the least amount of screen time.
What really kills The Belko Experiment for me is director Greg McLean’s apparent disinterest in presenting the presumably fun and schlocky B-movie that was likely supposed to be translated from Gunn’s original screenplay. Gunn has previously mixed B-movie horror and comedy to great effect with the ever-enjoyable Slither, and while I haven’t read his original screenplay for The Belko Experiment myself, I can only imagine that the film’s tone was supposed to be less serious and in service of a more thrilling and enjoyable watch. What McLean has converted from script to screen, however, is solely grim. And frankly, as the severity of the situation only heightened as time went on, I began to feel awful about what I was watching, like the events playing out on screen were exceedingly cruel for no apparent reason.
One nice thing I can say about the film is that the gore effects are seriously well done and look real. However, you can really only watch so many heads explode before it becomes monotonous. McLean’s decision to hold on some of the gore effects for uncomfortable amounts of time is a mistake, too. With a tone so serious, it simply becomes disgusting to watch. I imagine that a version of this movie that didn’t take itself so seriously could have resulted in a much more enjoyable watch. Even if it retained the same tone, at the very least it could have benefited from including more inventive deaths. 95% of the deaths come from the same three boring variations, resulting in a tiring watch.
Even worse than the shoddy characters and the unnecessarily serious tone, though, is the film’s poor excuse for an ending. In a scene of pure exposition, the figures behind the experiment explain their reasoning in what is one of the most underwritten endings to a film I’ve seen in years. It’s actually laughable how nonsensical it is, and almost feels as though the producers shrugged forth an ending in order to wrap production.
The Belko Experiment is a mediocre film with very few redeeming qualities, and that’s a supreme disappointment. I wholly believe that there is a much better film waiting to be adapted from Gunn’s original screenplay, but the version we’ve received is sadly all we’ve got, and it’s not something you want.
— Michael Lane, Blog Editor