2017, Bad Behavior, Bad Situations, Brutality, Cinema Knife Fights, Downbeat movies, ensemble casts, Gore!, Mind Experiments!, Murder!, Psychological Horror, Psychological Thrillers, Scientific Experiments, Trapped, VIOLENCE!, Workplace Horror 0
“Cinema Knife Fight” Presents:
THE BELKO EXPERIMENT (2017)
Review by L.L. Soares & Michael Arruda
(THE SCENE: A vast ballroom. Belle and the Beast are dancing alone in the cavernous room as an Alan Menken soundtrack plays in the background. They’re in a strong embrace, lost to themselves and the music, as various anthropomorphic household items cheer them on. It’s a resplendent moment. Suddenly, LL SOARES enters the room with a large sledgehammer and starts wrecking the place, smashing everything he sees. Beauty and the Beast flee in terror.)
L.L. SOARES: Wrong movie!
(TEACUP screams as it shatters to bits)
(MICHAEL ARRUDA rushes in)
MA: Stop! You’re going to hurt somebody!
LS: A tea kettle? A talking plate? Does that really matter?
MA: Hmmm, I guess not.
LS (raises head toward the ceiling and shouts): Oh, and turn off that damn music!
(The Alan Menken score stops)
LS: Which brings us to this week’s movie. Which, as I mentioned, is not BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Instead, we saw a movie with the catchy little title of THE BELKO EXPERIMENT (2017). Can you think of a more clunky name for a movie? It sounds like the name of a boring textbook.
MA: Yep. I picture it gray and nondescript. Fortunately, the movie is a little more lively than its title.
LS: It better be. As the movie opens, we find ourselves in Bogota, Columbia, at the high-rise office building that houses the Belko Company. I’m not really sure what they do all day, but we’re told they’re an American company that finds staff for other companies throughout South America. This particular morning, some ultra-serious soldiers with machine guns are at the company gates, demanding to see I.D.’s and turning some employees away. No one is sure what’s going on, but several suspect that there was some kind of bomb threat.
MA: Which makes sense, and is a plausible reason why the employees didn’t find anything too out of the ordinary by the soldiers’ presence.
LS: Eighty people get inside and start working, when they find out this is not going to be a normal day. A voice comes over an intercom nobody knew was there and tells them that they have to kill two people, or else people will be chosen at random to die. Nobody thinks it’s for real, but then metal plating slides up over the windows, locking them in. When they fail to kill the two “sacrifices,” the decisions are made for them, as random people die, their heads suddenly exploding. They are then told that, if they don’t murder 30 people, then 60 will die. At this point, everyone takes the threat seriously.
MA: And they take it seriously because they discover that their fellow employees were not killed by a gunshot blast, but by an internal explosion within their skulls. Everyone’s had trackers put in their heads in case they were ever kidnapped in Columbia, but now they understand that the implants might be dangerous, and whoever is behind their predicament might be able to kill them with ease.
LS: As expected, some people are terrified and try to hide or find a way out, as others organize and start killing. It’s clear that some kind of experiment in human behavior is going on (if you don’t believe me, just look at the movie’s title).
Well, we should probably start with the cast. We’ve got a pretty good group of actors here.
MA: Yes, we do. It’s one of the strengths of the movie.
LS: John Gallagher, Jr. (previously in HUSH and 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, both 2016) plays Mike Milch, a guy with a good heart who’s just trying to get through the day.
MA: I thought Gallagher was excellent here. He handles the “hero with a good heart” with ease. He was just as memorable in 10 CLOVERFIELD LANE, and less so as the masked killer in HUSH, a role in which he had far less to work with.
LS: Yeah, he’s likeable enough, and you care about him as the movie goes on. Tony Goldwyn (THE MECHANIC, 2011, DIVERGENT, 2014, and he plays President Fitzgerald Grant on the ABC series SCANDAL) is executive Barry Norris, who immediately tries to take charge of the situation.
MA: I thought Goldwyn was equally as good, and it’s not a one-note performance. Since Norris has a military background, he believes he is the man who has to make the tough call as to who lives or dies. And you can see that he’s not some emotionless robot. He knows the horror of what he is doing.
LS: Adria Arjona (the second season of TRUE DETECTIVE, 2015, and currently on the series EMERALD CITY) plays Leandra, a tough woman executive who’s involved with Milch.
MA: Arjona is excellent as well.
LS: Yeah, I liked her a lot here. She was one of my favorite characters. John C. McGinley (also in the movie PLATOON, 1986, the Dean Koontz TV-movie INTENSITY, 1997, the series SCRUBS, 2001- 2010, and currently starring in the series STAN AGAINST EVIL) is Wendell Dukes, a creepy dude who is always coming on to Leandra and who seems happy as a big in slop once things get violent.
MA: I love McGinley, probably most known for his work on SCRUBS, but I always remember him from his chilling performance in INTENSITY. There was something about him in this movie that reminded me of Bruce Dern. I could easily have seen Dern playing this role back in his heyday.
LS: The great Michael Rooker—who was also Henry in HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986), Yondu in the GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies, and he was Merle Dixon on THE WALKING DEAD)—plays Bud, a maintenance guy who tries to make sense of what’s going on, and who looks out for his assistant, a slightly slow adult named Lonny (David Dastmalchian, who also had small parts in THE DARK KNIGHT, 2008, PRISONERS, 2013, and ANT-MAN, 2015).
MA: Rooker is decent here, but I wish his character had been more integral to the plot.
LS: Sean Gunn (also in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, 2014, and played Kirk on THE GIRLMORE GIRLS) is a stoner dude named Marty; and Josh Brener (also on the IFC series MARON, 2013 -2015, and he plays “Big Head” on HBO’s SILICON VALLEY) is a nerd named Keith.
MA: I think we’ve made our point. We’ve mentioned the more recognizable faces, but the whole cast is very good. But, obviously, this isn’t a character study of people who work in an office. There’s pretty much just one emotion that’s driving everyone in this film: fear. They’re all scared to death and rightly so, and as such, everyone in the film does a fine job.
LS: THE BELKO EXPERIMENT is directed by Australian filmmaker Greg McLean, who also gave us WOLF CREEK (2005), the killer crocodile movie ROGUE (2007), and THE DARKNESS (2016). The script is by James Gunn, best known as the writer/director of such movies as SLITHER (2006), SUPER (2010), and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014).
MA: I enjoyed the script. It’s lean and mean, as the film is only 88 minutes long. It gets into things immediately and never looks back.
LS: Yeah, it gets to the point quickly and then it’s pretty much non-stop throughout. There were things I liked about the movie. First off, it was something different than the usual cliché horror film, and it has a great cast.
MA: I definitely agree with you there. This is now the third straight horror movie we’ve reviewed—following A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2017) and GET OUT (2017)—that has been different than the usual cliché horror films we see so often. 2017 has been a great year so far for horror fans.
(A DEMON leaps into the ballroom holding a camera.)
DEMON: I not only possess your house, but I also possess your children! (Laughs maniacally). Plus, I film you when you are asleep and then play it back so you can see all the weird stuff you do in the middle of the night! (Laughs again). And when I chase you I hold this camera and we watch it from my perspective and everything is all shaky! Ooh!! Shaky-cam! (Shakes camera violently and continues laughing).
Wait. Why isn’t anyone screaming?
MA: Been there, done that. You’re out of luck. There’s been no sign of you in horror movies here in 2017. Yet.
LS: And we’d like to keep it that way. Good riddance! Go back to where you came from.
DEMON: I can partner up with a witch, and we can hang out with a talking goat.
LS: Well, I did like the talking goat.
MA: No. (To Demon): Out! Get outta here!
DEMON: You guys are no fun.
MA: And you’re a boring cliché.
(DEMON sulks and exits.)
LS: But, on the other hand, I found a lot about THE BELKO EXPERIMENT to be predictable. As soon as you meet each of the characters, you pretty much know how they’re going to react once the killing starts. And you know that the stakes are just going to get worse and worse. There are some twists at the end that are interesting, but once things become a free-for-all, there were moments where I kind of wondered if maybe it all wasn’t a bit pointless.
MA: It’s predictable in that you know people are going to die, but I thought the terror the characters felt in this film was palpable, the threat believable, and the entire experience rather intense. I definitely enjoyed the ride.
LS: I did, too. It’s just that there weren’t many moments where someone’s behavior surprised me. I could have predicted how it all went down, which makes me wonder just how smart the people behind this experiment are. Why go to all this work? Did they really think it would be a big mystery who did what? Then again, maybe they didn’t care and were just sadists, which is something that at least makes sense.
But I really like director McLean a lot, and James Gunn is one of the most creative guys in Hollywood these days. The movie definitely ratchets up the intensity…
(John C. McGinley as EDGLER FOREMAN VESS from the movie INTENSITY enters the room)
VESS: Did someone mention intensity?
LS: Yes, we’re talking about your movie THE BELKO EXPERIMENT, and you were suitably intense in that.
VESS: You’re confused, I’m not John C. McGinley; I’m Edgler Foreman Vess. And I’m here to do some killing!
MA: Well, Beauty and the Beast should be somewhere in this building, and I think they’re about to sing a song!
VESS: Woo-hoo! Sounds like I hit the jackpot. I’ll go track them down.
LS: Have fun!
LS: But, overall, I thought THE BELKO EXPERIMENT was a mixed bag. While it’s well-made and well-acted, I didn’t think there was that many real surprises. I did like the relentless pace, though.
I give it two and a half knives. What did you think of it, Michael?
MA: I liked it a little bit more than you did.
As you said, the cast is very good, and that’s definitely a strength of this movie. They all do a terrific job of being scared. Now, they really aren’t developed all that well, but this is a situation where I didn’t mind a lack of character development. They find themselves stuck in a horrifying situation, and because of that, they instantly become sympathetic characters. I didn’t care that I didn’t know a whole lot about them. I knew their lives were in danger, and in this movie, that was enough.
I also really enjoyed the script by James Gunn. The threat is a good one, mostly because the people caught up in it have no way out. They’re given a very brief amount of time, and if they don’t act, they’re going to die. Sure, you’d hope that people wouldn’t resort to murder, but you only have to look at the world today to realize that this scenario isn’t so far-fetched, in that it’s easy for me to believe that “for the greater good” people would commit murder. Plus, not everybody wants to, and John Gallagher Jr.’s Mike character is the embodiment of that person who does not want to resort to murder, who wants, at all costs, to find another way.
LS: I didn’t think it was far-fetched, either. In fact, I think in real life, it would be more violent.
MA: The dialogue was spot-on as well.
I wasn’t nuts about the ending. It’s okay, and it doesn’t ruin the movie, but I wasn’t all that impressed. With a movie like this, with a threat from some unknown person, your mind can’t help but wander to the inevitable question: who is doing this and why? It’s like the TV show LOST. I watched that show, loving every minute of it, wondering of course just where they were and what the hell was really going on? At some point, there has to be answers, and in the case of LOST, I don’t think the answers were as good as what came before it. Similarly, the answers here in THE BELKO EXPERIMENT are also not as satisfying as what came before it.
LS: I definitely liked the ending more than you did, then.
MA: I also enjoyed the work of director Greg McLean here. There were some really cool scenes.
I thought the most intense sequence in the film was where Barry and his team round everyone up and then proceed to handpick who will live and who will die. That was a pretty intense sequence. And then, when the power goes out, I thought that was the most exciting sequence in the movie.
I also thought the film didn’t overplay the gratuitous violence card. Sure, there are some violent scenes that aren’t for the squeamish, but one, I thought these scenes looked good, and two, there weren’t a whole lot of them. This isn’t a gross-out movie. Yet, it remains disturbing.
LS: But they show us exactly how some people died, and it’s not pretty. I think the gore is handled well, and it’s very effective. Gore doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Here, it works.
MA: For what it was, I really liked THE BELKO EXPERIMENT. The film dives into its premise almost immediately and it never lets up. In terms of intensity, it was like watching THE WALKING DEAD but without the zombies. And while nothing in this film was as painfully excruciating as the Neegan scene in THE WALKING DEAD, the film did have that feel, of people being helpless against the violent threat around them.
I give it three knives.
Okay, now that we’re done, I’m off to catch the next showing of BEAUTY AND THE BEAST. Care to tag along?
LS: You’re serious? Not really. Although it might be fun to terrorize the audience. That is, if Vess didn’t get to them first.
MA: On second thought, maybe I should go alone.
(LS & MA prepare to leave the ballroom when suddenly all the windows and doors are covered by a thick metal plating, and all the anthropomorphic household items run around screaming. Suddenly, they hear a VOICE.)
VOICE: In the next 30 minutes, half of you will die. It’s time to kill or be killed.
LS (lifts sledgehammer): Now, you’re talking!
(A talking Tea Kettle screams, and its scream turns into a loud whistling)
VOICE: Welcome to THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST EXPERIMENT.
MA (rolls eyes): I hate these crossover movies.
LS: Where’s that harpsichord?
© Copyright 2017 by L.L. Soares and Michael Arruda
LL Soares gives THE BELKO EXPERIMENT ~ twoand a half knives!
Michael Arruda gives THE BELKO EXPERIMENT ~three knives.