The Belko Experiment (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
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The Belko Experiment (2017)

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The employees of Belko Industries are in for a rough day at the office.  Additional security shows up to turn away the local Colombians, a new employee has questions about why a tracking chip was planted in her skull, and a mysterious voice commands the employees to kill each other or more people will be killed in response.  With the office shuttered, the employees divide into camps figuring out how to survive, and bloodshed seems inevitable.  Greg McLean directs The Belko Experiment, with the screenplay written by James Gunn, and stars John Gallagher Jr. Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, and John C. McGinley.

My interest in The Belko Experiment peaked early.  Mike (John Gallagher Jr.) drives to work and is taken aback by the sight of several Colombian children playing innocently on the sidewalk while wearing skeleton masks.  The visuals slow as Mike's eyes narrow to focus on the children, hinting that whatever I'm about to learn about Mike will be tainted by this minor note of aggression to children who don't share his skin color.  I knew The Belko Experiment was going to feature tons of violence in the workplace so I settled in thinking this film may address the United States' exploitation of other countries in the guise of feel-good nonprofits.

Silly me.  The Belko Experiment is another in a sea of genre films where society is arranged to deprive white men of control and the only way to wrest it back is through violence.  I have no issues with the premise, Jeremy Saulnier's Blue Ruin was fantastic in this regard, but Blue Ruin had awareness about the illusion of middle-class prosperity and the desperation of men trying to return to that stability.  The scenario for The Belko Experiment is contrived to the point of leaving its hapless participants with no option outside taking up arms and hacking up their coworkers.

It didn't occur to me until The Belko Experiment's elevator scenes that the last elevator moment worth a damn was in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

This taught me nothing, showed no keen insight, and ended with the white guy walking away "victorious."  Which white guy?  Doesn't matter.  It could be Mike, his ex-special forces boss Barry (Tony Goldwyn), predatory creep Wendell (John C. McGinley), or any other of the white guys who posture with varying degrees of authenticity to their blood lust.  All that matters is that a white guy walks away from the carnage and how far out of his way director Greg McLean and screenwriter James Gunn go to ensure white guy victory while staging elaborate and sometimes humiliating deaths for the rest of the cast.

Consider the fate of Dany (Melonie Diaz).  This is her first day on the job and she's looking to make a great impression.  Then a voice takes over the loudspeakers telling the coworkers to kill a certain number of people.  She fights for her survival, displays a stunning degree of awareness as she sneaks her way around her new coworkers, and makes clever use of an elevator to escape.  Then, in one second, she's killed with a single shot to the head after spending most of The Belko Experiment because one of the white guys needed her to die.  Dany's killer cruelly dispatches another one of his subordinates who offers her body for sex and gets her head nearly twisted off in response.

Again and again, McLean and Gunn set up women to be abused, ogled, tortured, and eventually killed.  "But this happens to the men too," I can imagine some folks typing in response.  The difference is in the distribution of power and how the powers behind the camera present that distribution.  There's no escape from the Belko Industries building, and as employees begin literally losing their heads by failing to comply with the voice's demands it makes perfect sense to the employees that they need to kill if they want to live.  With a murderous situation so closed off from choosing to step away, all The Belko Experiment comes down to is a geek show of violent deaths with ironic detachment.

And by god am I exhausted with ironic detachment in films with this level of brutality.  They consist of sight gags, like when Wendell leaves a pile of bodies in a bathroom stall painted with blood and McLean cuts to a sign asking restroom users to keep the stalls clean.  It's not funny on its own, and considering the carefully framed massacres of The Belko Experiment the shot feels like a cowardly step away from owning what is presented.  Ditto the music, taking breaks from the bloodbath for elevator tunes or using José Prieto's cover of "I Will Survive" to force a self-aware wedge between what I'm seeing and part of what I'm hearing.

John C. McGinley is so effective at ruthless pragmatism it brings darker shades to his already complex earlier work.

This is cowardly film making with no point of view that cooly detaches itself from the white men forming murder squads.  McGinley's performance as Wendell is the only part of The Belko Experiment that sticks to and punishes a heinous worldview.  Wendell is the uber creep of the office, leaning over Leandra (Adria Arjona) while insisting she's sexually attracted to him, and is eventually the only one with the ethical commitment to admit he's killing people for the body count so he might survive.  McGinley, whose previous television and cinematic work presents him as a fount of troubled energy, is explosive when the pretension of his manly ways slips and he admits he's doing what he's doing because he wants to.

Gunn proves he's one of the most inconsistent creatives by going from vicious attacks on superhero worship in Super to the ethical vacuum of The Belko Experiment.  This isn't to excuse yet another series of pristine white office signs getting splattered by blood in tight long-shot by McClean.  I don't have the patience to twist myself into a moral pretzel and forcing metaphors on an already troubling flick.  If you want to pretend The Belko Experiment is a look at what corporate life does to the modern man, fine, but I'm going to point to Dany's dead body as the culmination of this power fantasy run horribly amuck.

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The Belko Experiment (2017)

Directed by Greg McLean.
Screenplay written by James Gunn.
Starring John Gallagher Jr. Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, and John C. McGinley.

Posted by Andrew

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