Film Review: Mayhem

A streak of dark humor brightens this revenge fantasy aimed squarely at anyone who ever daydreamed about punching a horrible boss right in the face.
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"I just wanted the corner office, and for my sins, they gave me one," says lawyer Derek Cho (Steven Yeun), channeling Apocalypse Now as Mayhem establishes its milieu. Towers & Smythe Consulting is the kind of dog-eat-dog corporation that chews up and spits out anyone who has neither the sense to lie low nor the cojones to go for the gold—and yes, that includes the women, notably Kara Powell (Caroline Chikezie), director of internal affairs. She's the one who throws Derek under a bus and gets him fired, but he isn't quite out the door when the T&S building is put on lockdown: There's been an outbreak of the much-feared ID7 virus, which drives anyone who catches it (popularly known as "redders," for their blood-suffused eyes) into fits of murderous rage and requires 48-hour quarantine, by the end of which time the virus will have run its grisly course.

That things are going to get very, very ugly is a given. Being in a perpetual state of barely suppressed ’roid rage, like much of the T&S senior staff (again, equal-opportunity raging), is a plus in a winning-isn't-everything-it's-the-only-thing business environment, but it's a literal lifesaver when the rules of civilized engagement are suspended until further notice. And so 30-plus years after the debut of Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, it's once again "Who will survive and what will be left of them?" time.

Mayhem owes a considerable debt of imagination to films like the brilliant Severance (2006) and the very good The Belko Experiment (2016) and, reaching back, George Romero's seminal The Crazies (1973), but it has an agreeable energy and offers Yuen (an original “Walking Dead” cast member and fan favorite) a crowd-pleasing role. Granted, it doesn't have much depth—Derek's moral compass is slightly less out of whack than those of his peers, though that's not saying much in the context of Towers & Smythe's bestiary of predators, prey and scavengers—but it offers Yeun plenty of room to have fun with Derek's transformation from impeccably dressed defender of corporate tools to blood-spattered badass. And the whole messy affair comes to a conclusion that delivers knee-jerk satisfaction in an impressively stylish way.

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