Mayhem [SXSW Review]
For Derek Cho, as with many others working in corporate America, his job is slowly sucking his soul away. Cut throat co-workers and even more ruthless superiors, his shitty work day becomes even worse when a virus puts the entire building into lockdown until the virus can be neutralized. This virus just so happens to cause the infected to lose all inhibitions, which sends the company into total chaos. Taking advantage of this, Derek must fight to the top to right the wrongs his bosses have put him through.
From the opening sequence, it’s clear that the sole intention behind director Joe Lynch’s latest feature is to have an absolute blast. It’s a complete success on that front; Mayhem not only lives up to its name, but it’s bonkers in the best possible way. It’s the type of film that’s not only fun to watch from an audience perspective, but it’s clear that the cast and crew relished making the film as well.
Steven Yeun essentially became America’s sweetheart as Glenn in The Walking Dead, and that endearing quality translated here as well as disgruntled Derek Cho. He’s the everyman that’s relatable, and that amiable trait that made Glenn so amiable is also what makes Derek likable despite some of the brutal methods he takes as he fights his way to the top. Of course, he’s not alone, and his partnership with pissed off client Melanie is what sells the brilliance of the film. Samara Weaving is a rising star, and her turn as Melanie often steals the show. The chemistry between Yeun and Weaving truly makes the film. Derek may be the audience proxy, but Melanie is the true hero.
The villains are over the top, and there’s a video game quality about the setup. There’s going to be inevitable comparisons with The Belko Experiment due to the corporate building setting, but not only is Lynch’s film far more optimistic and fun, it has more in common with films like Dredd. The loss of inhibitions makes for a whole lot of blood, sex, and violence. A lot of violence. There’s a sadistic glee about watching Derek and Melanie dismember their way to the top, and it’s the precise midnight, popcorn movie we could use more of.
Is it perfect? No. Its budget is on the lower end, but it packs a punch where it counts. It’s a simple set up that poses a valid, interesting question, but uses the genre to make its sentiment easier to swallow. The villains are ridiculously cartoonish and the concept behind the virus is thinly fleshed out, which might be off-putting to some. However, this just gives Yeun and Weaving more room to really dig in to their characters and deliver magical performances. While fans will be drawn to it for Steven Yeun alone, many are going to walk away in love with Samara Weaving. Lynch’s latest feature is a true crowd pleaser; it’s a God damn blast. It’s vicious and funny, and wildly entertaining. Director Joe Lynch didn’t create a critical darling, but he wasn’t trying to. He set out to make something that genre fans would applaud, and he succeeded.
Mayhem made its world premiere at SXSW on March 13, 2017.