Honestly, who hasn’t cubicle daydreamed about which office supplies would make the best weapons, just in case Jason from accounting ever decides to take his passive-aggressive bullshit on reply-all chains to the next level? James Gunn sure has, as he appears to have taken a long poop break while writing and directing The Guardians of the Galaxy flicks to pen The Belko Experiment, a movie capable of fully holding someone’s attention for about as long as an average bowel movement. Irritatingly devoid of any clever twists or cogent metaphors about oppressive corporate culture, this wannabe cult hit delivers only on its promise of copious violence. But that may be enough, depending on how much you hate your job.
Set in a nondescript corporate office building in Bogotá, Colombia, The Belko Experiment wastes no time on silly things like character development or atmosphere. Within minutes, employees are notified via intercom that they must kill a certain number of people or twice that number will have their cabezas popped. Turns out the trackers that were implanted for “employee safety” to protect against the kidnappings, which are rampant down in South America, are actually tiny bombs. This is your reminder to never let the company you work for put anything inside of you except quiet desperation and ennui.
Mike (John Gallagher Jr.) is our generic, bland, white male hero. You can tell he’s a swell fella because even though he’s management, he’s super cool to the black security guard and even the non-hottie lady workers! He’s against killing fellow employees, which makes him a solid coworker but a total drag at holiday parties. Meanwhile, the other executives and management warm to the idea of a slaughter. Wendell (John C. McGinley), who we meet as he’s pervo-leering at Mike’s girlfriend (Adria Arjona), joins forces with the C.O.O., who we know is evil because he’s played by the bad guy from Ghost (Tony Goldwyn). Everything quickly disintegrates to a “there can be only one” murder party, which is only fun if it’s Highlander themed.
Director Greg McLean may be working from Gunn’s script, but he lacks ability to make the grotesque into something cheeky. Worse, The Belko Experiment almost goes out of its way to avoid making explicit commentary on the capitalist cannibalism of workers or corporate oppression of minority employees and women. It’s literally just a movie about everybody trying to kill each other in an office building, without the demented sense of fun such a premise requires.
Sure, there are small pleasures to be had. The wacky gore of a few particular kills are B-movie chuckle-funny, and the pace is taut and lithe. And it’s not as though the film was sold through some false bill of goods; it is the mass murder extravaganza promised. The frustration is that The Belko Experiment never crests over into being outright great, clever or inspired. Had it provided a Cabin in the Woods-style final reveal or satisfying mastermind responsible for the whole affair, it could have been a genre classic. Instead, it treads bloody water, and serves as a solid reminder to actually use your acquired vacation time.
This review previously appeared in The Reader of Omaha, Nebraska.