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Mayhem (Overlook Film Festival Review)

Mayhem (Overlook Film Festival Review)
6 10

PLOT: A newly fired attorney (Steven Yeun) is trapped in his office during a quarantine, after the whole building has been infected with a pathogen that, temporarily, makes the infected lose all inhibitions and become prone to violent behavior.

REVIEW: MAYHEM is basically the lo-fi version of THE BELKO EXPERIMENT. While that movie had location photography, a Hollywood cast and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY’s James Gunn as part of the creative team, MAYHEM, is director Joe Lynch’s micro budget answer, and comparing the two films is unavoidable, but also kind of intriguing. In many ways they’re similar, but in other’s they’re strikingly different takes on the same basic plot.

Of the two, Lynch’s film is slightly more cynical, and maybe even relatable in that, in BELKO, it’s all the plot of some anonymous corporation. In MAYHEM, the firm is just another big-time law firm, and while it’s staffed by borderline sociopaths, at least the virus gives some plausible explanation as to why everyone goes nuts.

It’s especially cool that in Lynch’s film, our hero, Steven Yeun’s Derek is just as infected as everyone else, different from how the hero in BELKO stays above it all. He’s also not above jockeying for power, being shown as an ambitious attorney, with most of his quest here relating to his need to get to the much-guarded top floor of his firm so he can argue for his job back. As the movie goes on Derek hooks up with Samara Weaving’s Melanie, a young woman looking to get her foreclosure stopped, and both become more unhinged as they make their way to the top. They have to fight their way through some of the sadistic partners, including Dallas Roberts’s head of HR, grimly called The Reaper,and Kerry Fox’s sociopath partner who’s handling Melanie’s foreclosure. As they work their way up it’s like a videogame, pitting them against the big bosses, with Caroline Chikezie’s “The Siren” the number two big bad, all the way to Steven Brand’s senior partner, who’s worse than anyone else infected thanks to his raging coke problem, which aggravates the symptoms.

At eighty-five minutes, Lynch brings the same sense of anarchy to this that he brought to EVERLY, although this is more modest. The budget might be on the lower-end of the spectrum (and probably wouldn’t have paid for the catering on BELKO), but there’s a real spirit to it, and Yeun is a game leading man. He’s given a chance here to show a little more humor and levity than he ever was on “The Walking Dead”, while Weaving is a good foil – with both getting looser as the movie goes on – apropos to the plot and mounting stakes. Lynch, with a script by Matias Caruso, also includes a few memorably eccentric touches, like Yeun looking for the right music to play on his iPod during a big fight, and his love of The Dave Matthews Band.

Just like BELKO, MAYHEM has a bit of a hard time sustaining the premise into a full film, and a limited budget means the mayhem is never quite as insane or ramped up as the title promises. Still, it’s a fast, entertaining bit of fluff, and a fun entry into Lynch’s growing body of work.

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