To place ordinary people in life-threatening, desperate situations where it seems the only way to survive is at the expense of others, breeds compelling cinematic endeavours. Whether it be Battle Royale or The Hunger Games, or even going back further to Lord of the Flies, it’s this uncompromising study of the human condition and behaviour that intrigues us, posing many a hypothetical question within ourselves – and it’s this moral compass this lays the foundations for the narrative to Greg McLean’s The Belko Experiment to thrive off.
Set in a high-rise corporate building in a desolate Colombian landscape, Belko are a company that help to find work for American compatriots relocating to South America. Though a Government-run company, the employees find themselves part of a twisted and barbaric experiment, whereby the doors are locked, and a voice booms over the intercom to claim that if a certain number of the 80 hostages aren’t killed by each other, they will start detonating the tracking devices in each employee’s head, which was mandatory when taking on the job. The CEO Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn) alongside knucklehead pervert Wendell Dukes (John C. McGinley) see this opportunity as a kill or be killed situation, whereas Mike Milch (John Gallagher Jr.) and his partner Leandra (Adria Arjona) seek a more civilised approach – but with the demands for more bodies coming in over the sound system, the desperation within the camp grows, which is rather difficult to stop.
Naturally engaging, given the fascinating premise and the fast-paced nature of its execution, The Belko Experiment – penned by Guardians of the Galaxy helmer James Gunn – does seem a little too happy to settle for b-movie status, rather than strive to neither subvert, or transcend expectations. Not helped by the array of lacklustre supporting performances by the cast, the whole style and approach taken is of a film perhaps not ambitious enough, where the likes of The Hunger Games show you can take a hypothetical, surrealist idea of this nature and create something really special, and not rely simply on entertaining means of murder and contrived one-liners. On a more positive note, John Gallagher Jr. makes for an absorbing lead, as Mike is far from your archetypal hero, quite small in stature, with an everyday quality about his demeanour which helps the audience invest emotionally into this endeavour.
The film tails off towards the end however, growing lazy and predictable in the process, similar in that regard to Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire – with a captivating opening act, only to descend into sheer chaos, which though fun, does grow tedious, indicative of a film without any real ideas, taking the Tarantino ‘let’s-kill-everyone’ approach rather than come up with something more nuanced and substantial. It’s a shame, for features such as Snowpiercer, also creating these savage worlds steeped in a pointed socio-political climate, carry far more weight than this entertaining, if underwhelming thriller.
The Belko Experiment is released on April 21st