“Battle Royale in an office building” is a nice pitch, especially when it comes from a combination as enticing as James Gunn and Wolf Creek’s Greg McLean. It’s also the kind of concept that could result in a brainless blood-fest, and The Belko Experiment does its best to both satirise and slaughter in an entertaining fashion.
The employees of the Bogota-based, US-owned Belko Company are slightly alarmed by the increased presence of armed guards on their way into work. That alarm escalates when a voice comes over the PA to tell them that they have to start killing each other, or the explosive devices implanted in their heads as anti-kidnapping trackers will do it for them.
Gunn’s script offers the usual bunch of characters: amiable everyman Mike (John Gallagher Jr), slick boss Barry (Tony Goldwyn), nonsense-spouting stoner Marty (Sean Gunn), nervous newbie Dany (Melonie Diaz), grinning perv Wendell (John C McGinley) and sweater-vest wearing nerd Keith (Josh Brener), to name just a few.
For the most part, however, he gives them just enough of a twist to make them interesting and McLean makes the most of some canny casting. Gallagher Jr (Hush, 10 Cloverfield Lane) gives twitchy intensity to his Jim-from-The Office character, Adria Arjona’s (Emerald City) Leandra makes for an unpredictable leading lady, and Michael Rooker breaks type nicely as a calm engineer.
There are plenty of nasty surprises and exploding heads to keep the audience on their toes as the group clumsily slides towards the slaughter, with the best shocks coming early on. McLean has no intention of shying away from the gore so anyone expecting Gunn’s edge to have been dulled by his Marvel efforts are in for a shock.
The problems come once the gloves are fully off. It’s a lot of fun trying to guess which of the characters will snap first, and the film offers just enough satirical stabs as the white male bosses start planning to execute employees who apparently don’t deserve to survive (a late set-piece in which they set about their plan is particularly effective), but it runs out of steam in the final act and the ending feels somewhat unsatisfying. As grisly entertainment, it works, and it does have a mean bite, but it doesn’t quite live up to its potential.