Starring: John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona
Director: Greg McLean
Running Time: 88 Minutes
Rating: R for a Lot of Exploding Heads
Release Date: March 17, 2017
If you work in any professional space anywhere in America, it’s very possible you’ve wished violence, in some degree, to your superiors. That’s just the name of the game. For the employees of Belko, an American corporation situated in the outskirts of Bogotá, Colombia, they are forced into a situation where they must do just that: murder their coworkers.
We’re introduced to the world of Belko in the unusually long entrance line to the company parking lot. Extra security measures are in place, annoying the employees, one of whom notices all the local Colombian employees are being sent home. Eventually, we enter the workplace and the day is off to the usual fraternizing, photocopying, awkward hellos, and office hijinks.
Not too long after the last of our crew clocks in, an emergency broadcast is played over the intercom system (to which one employee reacts, “We have an intercom?”). The voice over the speaker explains, “In eight hours, most of you will be dead,” and goes on to say that they have 30 minutes to kill two employees or there will be consequences. At first everyone believes this to be a prank, until large metal plates block off all windows and doors. Then it gets serious.
Mike (John Gallagher Jr.), our main protagonist and moral hero, along with his in-office girlfriend, Leandra (Adria Arjona), advocate for non-violent means of escape while Belko’s COO, Barry (Tony Goldwyn), says, “We should keep our options open.” After the 30-minute time limit elapses, the powers-that-be take out four employees by what seems to be sniper shots to the head. We find out the trackers Belko implanted in the foreign employees to find them if they went missing have a second function: they explode when triggered.
So now the stage is set. The good guys, led by Mike and Leandra, versus the bad guys, led by Barry and his crew, Wendell (John C. McGinley) and Terry (Owain Yeoman), and the consequence is clear: disobey and your head will explode. Then the stakes are raised; now, they must kill 30 co-workers in four hours or 60 will die. A blood bath ensues.
Everything about this film feels familiar: they’re trapped in a building, trying to get out (Quarantine); they must kill each other to survive (Hunger Games); there’s some unknown voice at the helm of the game (Saw); and, of course, they work for an unfulfilling, dull office job (Office Space).
It seems there are too many characters we don’t care about. That number quickly dwindles to around 20, but, in doing so, proves the gore and exploding heads are there for no other reason than shock value. If we don’t care about these people, we don’t, necessarily, care if they die, no matter how violent.
Next, to counter the meaningless violence towards characters we aren’t invested in and the somewhat cartoonish quality of their exploding heads, the writers seem to try and make a social comment on the banality of corporate life and the dark essence of human nature. Neither work. At one point our protagonist has the epiphany, “What do we even do here?”, attempting to comment on the meaninglessness of the job. But, ultimately, if you’ve seen The Office you’ve gleaned that fact more thoroughly than Belko could ever accomplish. We see our protagonist slowly devolve from a bastion of human morality to killer, but the commentary is nothing new. It’s the same Lord of the Flies story you read in middle school, only less effective.
There are some jokes sprinkled throughout the film, and the music, a playlist of classic rock songs performed in Spanish, is nice, but neither do much to save the film from itself. At the end, it feels like an undergraduate student film, floating somewhere in the ether between a social satire, a dark comedy, and a bloodthirsty 80s horror flick but landing nowhere.
The Belko Experiment is Recommended If You Like: Fantasizing about being forced to murder your boss, Office Space but wanted more death, Anything Saw-like
Grade: 2 out of 5 Useless Stoner Characters