Director: Joe Lynch
Cast: Stephen Yuen, Samara Weaving, Steve Brand
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The second office-based horror of the last few months, following the James Gunn-written The Belko Experiment, Mayhem paradoxically finds Joe Lynch finding his feet again, after the various problems that afflicted his work on Knights of Badassdom, and his Salma Hayek action flick Everly. This sees him back in the playful horror-comedy wheelhouse he exploited so successfully in the “yes, it’s actually pretty good” sequel Wrong Turn 2.
Lynch casts wisely with his lead in Stephen Yuen, a likeable presence who has brought warmth to The Walking Dead and here plays a rising star in a corrupt law firm, who sees the error of his ways when a strange virus takes hold of his office building. This virus, which essentially unleashes the Id in people, resulting in often-murderous behaviour, allows Yuen to play both a sympathetic little fish in a big pond, but also a surprisingly inventive badass, who convincingly kicks butt and takes names.
Those around Yuen also put in a playful shift. Samara Weaving gets to do quite a bit of physical action in a spunky and vital part, which could have been an awful lot more bland, Kerry Fox is almost unrecognisable as a company Director who loves making others miserable, and Steven Brand does a good line in scenery chewing, as the psychotic CEO of the company who snorts increasing amounts of cocaine as the madness takes hold. While it has very little new to say about corporate culture, as a throwaway bit of catharsis for those with a 9-to-5 job, Mayhem does its job well.
The film is not without its flaws, though. While the idea of the virus is interesting, its effect seems to vary, depending on what the plot needs it to do. Perhaps a lack of budget contributes to this, but aside from some interstitial moments and some background action in some of the bigger sequences, the violence seems confined, it doesn’t feel like the world is fully inhabited and the cast alternate between full-on violence and quieter scenes that don’t seem to make much sense, given the set-up. That said, Lynch does well with what he’s got. The gore is well done when it occurs, maybe not as much as you think going in, and it’s all shot with a stylish look and an ear for Metal.
Mayhem is a solid hour and a half that will make you laugh and cringe at some of the more extreme scenes, with a plot that is no great shakes but doesn’t insult the intelligence for the sake of satisfying gorehounds. If you’re intrigued by the premise, it’s pretty much guaranteed you’ll have a good time.