by Coop Cooper
With films and TV shows about societal collapse becoming increasingly popular with audiences, “Guardians of the Galaxy” director James Gunn and “Wolf Creek” director Greg McLean team up to bring their own spin on the sub-genre with “The Belko Experiment”. Although it was quietly released in theaters against much bigger films, “Belko” has the potential to find some cult success when audiences discover it after it releases on home video/streaming.
It seems like another regular day at the nonprofit Belko Corporation headquartered in the South American country of Colombia. The international (mostly American) employees go about their daily duties in their main office building when a mysterious voice announces over the intercom that the employees must kill two of their own or four will die automatically. The employees take this as a joke until metal shutters block off all the exits and windows and then four of their co-workers die from miniature explosives implanted in their heads. As the demands for killings escalates, the panicked workers (executives, middle-management, security, janitorial and maintenance) devolve into violence. One faction lead by the Chief Operating Officer, Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn), forms a kill squad to give into the demands in hope of surviving while a kindly office manager, Mike Milch (John Gallagher Jr.), puts his own life at risk in an attempt to prevent the impending bloodshed.
I have a soft spot for these claustrophobic thrillers contained in one location that pit ordinary people against each other for survival, especially if it has a sci-fi/horror slant. One of my favorite examples of this genre is the 1997 film “Cube” in which six strangers wake up inside a booby-trapped structure and must try to discover a way out as they die one by one. The tension is always extremely high in these scenarios and strong acting gives it an extra punch. “Belko” borrows heavily from the films that preceded it, so it isn’t entirely original. It takes a few cues from “The Hunger Games”, but fans of that franchise would be shocked by “Belko’s” level of brutality and viciousness that was mostly absent from those ‘young adult’ novels and movies. In fact, it seems to glean much of its violent influence from the 2000 Japanese film “Battle Royale” which coincidentally is the film that “The Hunger Games” author, Suzanne Collins, was accused of ripping off.
One of the fun parts about these types of films is sizing up the seemingly ‘normal’ characters before the situation becomes dire to guess who will be the ‘good-guy’ characters to root for and who will inevitably turn into the ‘bad guys’ who kill innocent people in order to survive. Some of this is obviously predictable while others were a little harder to guess, even halfway through the carnage. The other fun aspect of this genre is trying to guess what the reason behind these experiments or contests are. Is it a government conspiracy? Is it alien test of humanity’s morals? Is it some kind of twisted game show? The ultimate reason behind “The Belko Experiment” isn’t exceptionally satisfying. I’d say “Cabin in the Woods” and the aforementioned “Cube” had much more clever and/or frightening reasons behind their nefarious plots. The real fun of “Belko” is watching some of Hollywood’s favorite character actors going ‘Battle Royale’ on each other. Folks will recognize familiar faces such as John C. McGinley (“Scrubs”), Michael Rooker (“The Walking Dead”), Abraham Benrubi (“APB”) and Melonie Diaz (“Fruitvale Station”) amidst the carnage. At the heart of “Belko” lies in John Gallagher Jr.’s charming performance as a good-natured Everyman forced into a leadership role as a pacifist who tries desperately to stop the imminent bloodbath he sees coming. He has a disarming, nice-guy demeanor that similarly put Chris Pratt into the A-list. He has a lot of potential and I’ll be watching his career closely.
“The Belko Experiment” is a solid B-movie for people who like “The Purge” series. It’s brutal escapism that has been done better, but is a worthy entry to the genre.
Rating: 3 and 1/2 out of 5 stars