The Horror Honeys: New Release Review: 'The Belko Experiment'

New Release Review: 'The Belko Experiment'

A New Release Review with Horror TV Honey Kat Wells

The Belko Experiment (2017)

(Mild spoilers ahead)

If you took an ethics class in college (and even if you didn’t), you are probably familiar with The Trolley Problem, which has many versions, but goes something like this: A train conductor notices that he is about to plow through five people tied to the track ahead. If he does nothing, those five people will die. If he pulls a lever to switch the trolley to an adjacent track where only one man is standing, only that one man will die. What should he do? Five people will die as a result of his inaction, but can he really justifiably take another man’s life on purpose? The Belko Experiment is an extremely, relentlessly, unapologetically violent meditation on this problem.

It’s a simple premise: A group of international employees (many of them American) at a remote office building in Bogotá, Colombia start their day like any other, until an announcement comes over the speakers telling them that two of them must be dead in 30 minutes, or four of them will be killed. The voice assures them this is not a test or a joke, the building barricades them all in, and the countdown begins. Things progress in an increasingly bloody fashion, the ante being upped each time the group fails to kill enough of their own to avoid the exponentially devastating repercussions.

Dr. Cox goes rogue.

I’ve always loved moral questions like The Trolley Problem, and was therefore terribly excited for The Belko Experiment. The moral conundrums posed are unthinkable, but they really get at something elemental about what it means to be human, and to be moral, so we’ve all wondered how we would react if placed in such a scenario. James Gunn and company do a great job of exploring a wide range of human behavior, making you feel like you are getting a warts-and-all fishbowl view of the worst Monday at the office ever. Some people (looking at you, John Gallagher Jr.) are staunchly anti-murder, fighting to embody the best things about humanity, and some people make short work of killing lest they be killed. And that ugliness? It gets very ugly. Almost unbearably ugly. I’m not talking about the gore, though there’s plenty of that. I’m talking about what it feels like to watch people become the worst versions of themselves. And, for me, that is where The Belko Experiment became un-fun. Like, as un-fun as Guardians of the Galaxy is fun.

It’s not for lack of trying on the part of the filmmakers, cast, crew, and everyone involved in the making of this extremely well-executed splatter movie. The first act is full of really fun getting-to-know-the-cast moments, many seen through the lens of the newest hire, Dany (Melonie Diaz), and with a Spanish-language version of “I Will Survive” playing over the action, giving a snarky wink to the mayhem the audience knows is coming. After the first announcement, the boss (Tony Goldwyn) tells his employees he’s going to investigate what’s going on and then “circle back” to let them know what he finds, which is the most absurdly corporate phrase he could possibly use in such an extreme situation. It’s a tonally perfect moment, and exactly what I was expecting from and looking for in this movie.

"Everyone just calm down, and don't forget to turn in your TPS reports
by the end of the day."
The violence starts off with an air of fun, too. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know that the way the “voice of God” picks off employees when they haven’t met their kill quota is by detonating tiny bombs implanted in the backs of their heads (upon being hired, the employees were told the implants are GPS trackers in case they are kidnapped). These deaths are sudden and shocking and gory and creatively exploited to the fullest extent. It’s a pretty fun device. Once the employees’ bloodlust/desire not to die themselves kicks in, though, things get un-fun, and fast.

Based on the amount of cheering and clapping in my screening, I’m in the minority on this, but I ultimately found it very difficult to watch people being this brutal toward one another. There were one or two kills that I found pretty satisfying, but for the most part it all made me feel sad and a little nauseated, perhaps because the film does a really good job of getting you to identify with everyone’s motivation. Even the worst behaving of the bunch have a reason to be doing what they’re doing. The cast is phenomenal, so by the time the mass killing starts, it isn’t as cathartic as it is very, very, upsetting. There’s one scene in the third act that drove me out of my seat for a short moment, to such an extent that if I ever hear a Spanish language version of “California Dreamin’” again, consider my ass done for the day.

For the love of god, make it stop?
On a positive note, one of the most exciting things about The Belko Experiment is the willingness on the part of actors like Tony Goldwyn and John C. McGinley to sign on to a project so savagely violent. It’s brave, and we should all be thankful when such seasoned and respected actors are excited by and participating in true genre films like this one. I’ve said it already, but it bears repeating: this cast is great. Goldwyn, McGinley, Sean Gunn, Adria Arjona, Michael Rooker, and John Gallagher Jr., every last one of them have given every part of themselves to the successful execution of this insane film. Still, at the end of the day, The Belko Experiment just wasn’t the raucous, getting-back-at-the-coworkers-you-hate romp I was looking for. But I think you know if this is the type of movie for you. And if it is, you are in for a head-bustingly good time.

Are you interested in The Belko Experiment?
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