Despite the fact that many of us have worked in them, there are few films that truly capture the specific horrors of the typical North American office environment. One could argue that Office Space, despite being a comedy, is a horror film of a sort since it so successfully evokes the feeling of dread many of us experience at the thought of what it’s like to sit in a cubicle all day with annoying coworkers and unreasonably demanding bosses.
While Christopher Smith’s film Severance took office politics to a particularly bloody level in 2006, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen the terrors of a corporate (or should I say “gore-porate”? Well, I just did.) environment. Thankfully The Belko Experiment has just exploded—literally—onto screens at the Toronto International Film Festival and made the prospect of another day at the office scary again.
Greg McLean (creator of the Wolf Creek franchise) and James Gunn (who wrote and directed body horror/comedy classic Slither) are forces to be reckoned with, and it’s surprising that they haven’t teamed up until now. Rather than do a big-screen version of something like The Office, McLean and Gunn use blood and guts to get their point across.
The Belko Corporation is housed in a skyscraper in the middle of Bogota, Columbia. There are both American and Columbian employees there, but we’re never exactly sure what the company does. We are, however, introduced to several of the employees early on: Mike (John Gallagher, Jr.; Hush) and his girlfriend Leandra (Adria Arjona); Wendell (John C. McGinley), who harasses Leandra via staring and interoffice messaging; Chief Operations Officer Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn); security guard Evan (James Earl); and new employee Dany (Melonie Diaz).
It seems to be a typical day at the office until an announcement comes over the P.A. system that those in the building need to kill 30 of their fellow employees within the next two hours or 60 employees will be killed. And we’re off!
With this early scene, The Belko Experiment immediately reminds one one of horror juggernauts like Saw or Battle Royale. Anyone who’s seen those movies can predict that soon enough, the polite veneers of these people will vanish and be replaced with murderous self-preservation.
Not to spoil the movie, but that’s exactly what happens. Sure, it isn’t the most original plot ever, but The Belko Experiment makes it work with a combination of shocking violence, superbly gory special effects, believable characters, and narrative twists. There are also some ingenious comic moments throughout the film that run the gamut from blatantly satirical to subtle; your appreciation of them will likely depend on whether or not you buy into the film’s premise in the first place.
The music, by Tyler Bates (John Wick, The Sacrament) is appropriately over the top when it needs to be as well as hilariously anachronistic, especially in the form of the Spanish language covers of popular pop songs. Between the soundtrack and the “building as class struggle” premise, The Belko Experiment also feels a bit like Ben Wheatley’s High Rise, but completely American-ized.
While it’s not a particularly deep movie and it definitely treads familiar territory, The Belko Experiment is a genuinely fun time and the kind of film that ranks high on the rewatchability scale, especially for the performances and a lot of clever and quotable dialogue.
The Belko Experiment had its World Premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday, September 9.