As the employees of Belko Industries arrive at their office building for another day of work, they are greeted by unusually heavily armed security. Not thinking much of it as highly violent crimes are known to take place in Colombia where the American employees are stationed, everybody goes about their business as usual. However, their routines are disrupted when heavy metal shutters suddenly encase the building, and an eerie voice sounds out across the office, telling the trapped office workers that they must kill a handful of their colleagues. Should they fail, the unseen voice informs them, the result will be the death of a substantially larger number of their fellow workers. Initially assuming that they are being pranked, the employees soon learn that the threat to their lives is in fact very real, as they are asked to kill more and more people within a certain time frame lest whoever is conducting this cruel game do it for them. Thus, the fight for survival begins and the terrified office workers must kill or be killed, but does the average office worker have what it takes to kill innocent people?
Since it is helmed by Wolf Creek director Greg McLean and written by Guardians of the Galaxy writer and director James Gunn, one of course expects The Belko Experiment to be plentiful in terms of both gore and wit. Thankfully, both elements are present in good measure, with visuals and scenarios that are equally grim and humorous, resulting in highly entertaining kibble for gorehounds with a dark sense of humor. The special effects are sufficiently gruesome and the acting performances are decent, giving you both someone to despise as well as someone to root for, with John Gallagher Jr being particularly enjoyable as everyman Mike Milch. As for the story, while it may not be the most original, Gunn’s decision to occasionally defy the horror formula by throwing character expectations out the window keeps the story fresh and ensures that tension is maintained throughout the film.
However, while The Belko Experiment is enjoyable as a disposable bit of blood-spattered entertainment involving creative use of office equipment, it is unlikely to impress those who are familiar with Battle Royale, as The Belko Experiment never manages to accomplish the absurdly excessive level of gore associated with its Japanese source of inspiration. As for the story, many have drawn comparisons to Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s collaborative effort The Cabin in the Woods, and there are indeed obvious parallels to be found in terms of the premise. Both films feature innocent people being forced into a terrifying situation by an outside force that has no regard for human life on an individual basis, but while The Belko Experiment may manage some of the wit of the subversive The Cabin in the Woods, the lack of layering not only results in fewer plot twists, it also means that the potential satirical edge The Belko Experiment could have had goes virtually unexplored. The end result is therefore lacking in depth compared to the carefully constructed 2012 horror.
Just as with any other genre, bland horror films have been a problem for decades, and while The Belko Experiment is anything but original, the talent and experience of its creators is evident in spite of its modest budget and simple plot. As such, the end product may be unexceptional, but its competent execution (no pun intended) makes it a highly enjoyable, if disposable piece of horror cinema. Additionally, it also manages to be the second film of 2017 that features gory use of otherwise innocuous office supplies – I am looking at you, John Wick: Chapter 2 – which is efficient enough to make you reconsider leaving passive-aggressive notes for your colleagues, just in case you should find yourself in a situation similar to the premise of The Belko Experiment someday.
Verdict: 7 out of 10.
*An edited version of this review was published in the May 2017 issue of Fortean Times.