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The Belko Experiment (TIFF Review)

The Belko Experiment (TIFF Review)
09.12.2016by: Chris Bumbray
7 10

PLOT: The corporate drones of a mysterious corporation find themselves in lock-down mode and forced into a kill-or-be-killed scenario.

REVIEW: If you work in an office-setting, your mind is gonna go strange places as you watch THE BELKO EXPERIMENT. Directed by WOLF CREEK’s Greg McLean and written by none-other than James Gunn, this gallows-humor satire is like ‘The Office’ crossed with BATTLE ROYALE.

Perfect fare for TIFF’s Midnight Madness program, BELKO’s premise, while not unpredictable, can’t help but deliver some real visceral thrills, especially once the carnage kicks-in to high gear after the mostly comedic first half hour. The titular Belko is basically a big HR firm set-up in Bogota, Colombia but almost entirely staffed by Americans, with their housing and transport all supplied by the company, which has also implanted them all with “tracers” in their head, with the explanation being that expatriate Americans are a frequent target of kidnappers.

Naturally for genre fare, Belko ends up being a big scam, and an excuse for a bizarre social science experiment designed to test human nature by making the employees realize the only way out is to kill or be killed. Some, like Tony Goldwyn’s alpha male CEO with a background in special forces, or John C. McGinley’s office perv are better at this kind of thing than others. John Gallagher Jr., is our every-man hero, an IT consultant who’s like the Jim Halpert wise-guy of the office but also one of the few who proves to not be a trigger happy nut.

While pure entertainment, the different office archetypes are cleverly exploited here, making it tempting to somewhat live vicariously through the characters, something I found surprisingly unsettling. As the film goes on, BELKO becomes a lot less funny than you’d expect from Gunn and more about heavy-duty blood-letting, with the carnage ultra-violent in a way that does the Orion Pictures logo at the start of the film proud (don’t forget - in their heyday they produced ROBOCOP).

It helps that the cast is pretty great. Gallagher Jr (SHORT TERM 12) is easy to relate to and a solid hero, while newcomer Adria Arjona is good as his tough love interest, who proves to have a more flexible sense of morality. Peppered with character actors like Brent Sexton, Melonie Diaz and Gunn favorites Gregg Henry and Michael Rooker, the cast is far above-average. Tony Goldwyn is especially good as the nice-guy boss who turns out to be something of a sociopath, and the action design by McLean is solid, with some good hand-to-hand scraps and creative carnage. The sound design is also very polished, with a great score by Tyler Bates and a fun soundtrack of South American covers of cheesy pop songs, with some of the ironically chosen numbers being songs like “I Will Survive”.

Like most Midnight Madness selections, THE BELKO EXPERIMENT knows just when to call it a day on the admittedly limited premise, running a tight ninety-minutes, probably the max for a film like this. While somewhat predictable, it’s also a really fun watch and catnip for genre fans.

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