The Belko Experiment is a fine example of a movie that makes good on exactly what it promises: office drones murdering each other. If you want richly realized characters or narrative subtlety, you’re in the wrong theater.
The movie opens with the titular company’s workers, from the head honchos to janitors and security guards, arriving for what they assume is just another day at their Columbia-based office. A brief series of scenes efficiently establishes their workplace roles: the new girl, the COO, the sexual harasser, and more. Our protagonist is Mike Milch, a Jim Halpert-esque nice guy who enjoys a semi-secret relationship with his co-worker Leandra. It’s all business as usual until an anonymous voice on the intercom informs the employees that if thirty of them aren’t dead within two hours, sixty of them will be killed. Naturally, the workers shrug it off as a joke at first, but when metal shutters enclose the building and heads start exploding (turns out the employees’ sub-dermal “trackers” weren’t in case of kidnapping after all), the threat no longer seems so idle.
The screenplay does a bang-up job of steadily escalating the conflict between the workers; the first murder happens later than you might think, after Mike and his group of do-gooders attempt to find a way to get help. Meanwhile, the COO and other alpha-males of the office prepare for war. At this point one might expect the situation to descend into chaos (and eventually it does), but instead the band of killers take a chillingly systemic approach to their task.
Performances are strong across the board, with the key players doing their best to instill some nuance in their various office archetypes. John Gallagher Jr. is endearingly naïve as the movie’s moral compass, and John C. McGinley is admirably restrained as lech-turned-psychopath Wendell. But the standout is Tony Goldwyn as chief executioner Barry, whose cold, pragmatic rationale for killing makes an uncomfortable amount of sense.
Though the movie was penned by Slither director James Gunn, and the trailers conveyed a (relatively) light tone, those going into The Belko Experiment expecting a horror-comedy will be disappointed. This is a far bleaker, more nihilistic movie then it initially lets on, and despite a few well-placed jokes (the best one being a brilliant song choice in the opening credits), it’s a horror movie through and through. This works to its advantage, since too much humor would dull the movie’s hook: daring the audience to ponder what they would do in this situation. It’s hardly a new question; the people-forced-into-death-game plot is practically a subgenre at this point, but The Belko Experiment is a rock-solid execution of the formula. That being said, it’s not much more than that, and one can’t help but wish that it dug a little deeper in its satire of office politics. But what it does it does well, delivering on all counts as a dark, uncompromising, and extremely violent horror film.