As someone who lost their job to ‘not a proper redundancy’ last Christmas, I found myself darkly amused by The Belko Experiment.
Helmed by Wolf Creek director Greg McLean and written by James Gunn, this office-based horror thriller ticks a couple of the workplace satire boxes: shiny steel coffin of a skyscraper with zero phone reception; insufferable coworkers (older perverts; impossibly cheery fat old ladies; quiet nerds; only black person is a security guard).
It begins ominously enough: Generic White Everyman Mike (GWEM) (Hush‘s John Gallagher, Jr) arrives at his completely-isolated high-rise office in the middle of No-one Can Hear You Scream, Colombia. The newly-hired, heavily-armed guards leave him somewhat prickled. Next up is a cursory introduction to new girl Dany (Melonie Diaz), whose unfriendly induction by her surrounding cubicle-dwellers makes Jawbreaker look like all of the cloying hug moments from New Girl.
Without warning, all the doors and windows are suddenly sealed. A creepy voice on the tannoy announces that the current group of 80 must kill two, or more will be killed at random.
Much like those shitty fire drills at one of my last jobs (for which NOBODY ever trained us on where the fucking fire exits even were), everyone ignores it and a handful of people’s heads literally explode. And much like that job I legit declined an interview for a couple of months ago, the group determines the the trackers implanted in their necks to be the culprit. GWEM, being the best plot-armoured imbecile that he can be, decides to take a boxcutter and literally try to extract it from the back of his neck because, you know, nothing important there. Thankfully, Creepy Voice instructs GWEM to quit his shit or he’ll make tracker go kablamo and everyone still alive decides they’d better start believing what’s going on.
Up pops Marty (Sean Gunn, who will forever be known to me as Kirk), who reminds everybody that the employment contract they all signed allowed them to ‘pretty much do whatever they want’ to them. I’d argue that’s flimsy writing logic, but anyone stupid enough to sign a contract without properly reading it is exactly the sort of pubebrain you wouldn’t root for in this kind of movie, anyway, which works for the fantastically-OTT gore. Exploding heads as punchlines? Yes, please.
A decent handful of bits in this film are darkly humorous if you’ve ever worked in an office. I once worked in a cubicle farm where my neighbour decided to block the last slivers of sunlight by lining up his length-of-service awards atop the sides of his cage. I’ve worked in places that let people work on long-expired contracts. I’ve worked in a place that underpaid me, then overpaid me. Corporate employers will do anything they can to fuck you, but the people who willingly stay in those places long-term will do anything they’re told, often under the naive assumption that their loyalty will pay off. But they’re just fodder. Expendable.
Disappointing, then, is the fact that they didn’t take the office setting and just run with it. Where’s the decapitation-by-scanner, the dismemberment-by paper-guillotine, or the drowning-by-water-cooler? It doesn’t have to be all You’re Home Alone Next, but when an arsenal of weapons is found, it feels like a groaning cop-out.
It’s not like there isn’t fun to be had, though. John C. McGinley becomes entertainingly unhinged. Sean Gunn swears so much that you could make a drinking game out of how many times he says ‘man’ or some variation of ‘fuck’. Michael Rooker has three lines of dialogue. Tony Goldwyn looks less creepy than when I remembered him in Ghost as a kid. Bighead from Silicon Valley is in it. In your head, you can imagine them making a great ensemble cast in an early cut of the film.
Even at 84 minutes, it feels like a short film stretched too thin, and unsure of what tone it wants to take. Much like your typical corporate HR department, movie seems to skirt a flabby, non-committal line between hints of black comedy and trying to take itself too seriously – with neither likeable characters nor interesting dialogue to prop up either.