Film Review: The Belko Experiment

In this vicious satire about dog-eat-dog corporate practices, office drones are pitted against one another in a kill-or-be-killed free-for-all.
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Belko is an apparently benevolent corporate entity based in Bogotá, Colombia, that employs 80 American office slaves and is dedicated to facilitating interactions/alliances involving North American companies investing in South America and local businesses. It's all about "bringing the world together…" What could be bad about that?

Well, that's the thing: One minute, every-guy middle-management dude Mike Milch (theatre-trained John Gallagher, Jr., of Spring Awakingand American Idiot) is slacking his way through his daily grind, flirting with the lovely Leandra (Adria Arjona) and hardly noticing the fact that most of the local building staff has been quietly sent home. Then the Belko building—a high-rise tower in the middle of nowhere—locks down: Steel armor plating sheaths the exterior, all the doors and windows click shut, external communications go down and a voice from the PA system announces that 30 employees need to die over the course of the next two hours. If they don't, 60 will be killed and in eight hours most of them will be dead.

The natural response is "That's ridiculous"…and then heads start exploding, everyone remembers those chips—the ones in their brains that were inserted to protect them from kidnapping—and the alpha-curs, notably chief operating officer Barry (Tony Goldwyn) and his right-hand goon, Wendell (John C. McGinley), start marking their territory with blood.

Australian director Greg McLean (Wolf Park) and U.S. screenwriter James Gunn's (Guardians of the Galaxy) film follows squarely in the footsteps of Christopher Smith and James Moran's 2006 Severance, whose ironic use of the creepy novelty song "Itchycoo Park" tops Belko's deployment of Gabriela Teran's Spanish-language cover of "California Dreamin’" by a mere hair. But overall the movies are on the same page, both self-contained top dog/underdog showdowns whose game-masters are hidden behind horrifyingly bland public announcements and whose ultimate goal is unclear to the beleaguered players, beyond demonstrating repeatedly that the notions of common decency, fair play and mutual cooperation people are generally encouraged to live by are quickly reduced to loser liabilities.

Like Severance, The Belko Experimentis reductive but potent—anyone who's ever worked in a corporate environment will recognize the staff dynamics and hierarchies, from drones to stoners to go-getters, sad lifers, no-hopers and self-proclaimed cynics who've nonetheless sold little bits of their rebel souls for a sweet paycheck. The systematic Ten Little Indians reduction of players ensures that it's never dull and the details are devilish: Just imagine TV's “The Office”as a zero-sum murder game and start thinking about that officious administrator or damp-palmed facilities manager you always really hated and The Belko Experiment snaps into painfully clear focus. Feeling that it's also a nasty little parable for 2017 America is optional but hard to ignore.

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