Director: Greg McLean
Cast: John Gallagher Jr, Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley
Watch The Belko Experiment online in the UK: Netflix UK / iTunes / Prime Video (Buy/Rent) / Rakuten TV / Google Play
James Gunn may be one of Marvel Studios’ most popular figures, but like his Marvel cohort Taiki Waititi, his film background beforehand screams anything but mainstream popcorn fare. It is delightful to see that he continues to indulge his niche side with The Belko Experiment, which he wrote and also produced, with the directorial reins given to prolific Wolf Creek director Greg McLean – the pair’s nasty, darkly comic sensibilities mesh together for a quick hour and a half of office relationships pushed to extremes.
It is somewhat surprising, though, that the more successful elements of The Belko Experiment really come before the kills truly let rip. This story of colleagues being forced to pick each other off, Battle Royale-style, takes its time to get going and the way they handle the early going is genuinely involving. Some immediately arm up, others just laugh it off, but those central to the plot try and talk about what to do. These discussions get increasingly heated and certain shades of grey are introduced, which keep the film from being an “us and them” proposition for a decent amount of time – McLean does well to keep the tension boiling at a threatening level, while not setting off the inevitable powder keg until it has to.
Unlike Joe Lynch’s Mayhem, the vast majority of the violence here isn’t cathartic. While this is most certainly a B-movie at heart, there is a sadness to much of the carnage and a central character arc is really quite disturbing, seeing someone go from not being willing at all to kill to almost becoming swallowed up by the primal urges it swells up, leading to an ending that, in many films, would feel like a victory, but here feels like a corruption of morals. The violence as a whole actually feels a touch anti-climactic, perhaps intentionally; as a film that starts with quite a vast array of characters, it’s almost inevitable that some deaths do feel a touch is-that-it, although there are some highlights within.
The film’s $5 million budget is also used well. There’s a decent sense of scope to the limited surroundings and CG is used sparingly but effectively in the depiction of just how isolated the Experiment’s unwilling participants are. The use of a litany of ‘Hey, that guy!’ actors also leads to a fun sense of not knowing who is going to live and for how long (although Tony Goldwyn is a bit of a standout, as the boss who tries to do the right thing before realising it’s not in his nature).
It feels weird in this day and age that The Belko Experiment got a theatrical release and, in all honesty, the James Gunn connection probably made the difference. However, if you’re so inclined, it’s as easy a streaming recommendation as you’ll ever find – a short, sharp, nasty little number that may not have much to truly stand out but still manages to leave a bit of a mark.
The Belko Experiment is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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