The Belko Experiment (2016)
★★ / ★★★★
Despite an intriguing premise, horror-thriller “The Belko Experiment,” directed by Greg McLean, fails to take the necessary risks in order to, at the very least, match its wild plot that promises B-level gory fun. Instead, like run-of-the-mill mainstream attempts within the genre, it employs violence for violence’s sake. One gets the impression that the filmmakers believe they are being daring when the camera employs close-ups on skulls cracked open. One would be better off watching videos of real-life autopsies. At least they’re educational.
There is not enough social commentary when it comes to office politics and how cutthroat it can be. While the material spends a few minutes to introduce characters we either will root for or against, not one is particularly compelling. Perhaps most problematic is the couple in the center of the story. Mike (John Gallagher Jr.) and Leandra (Adria Arjona) get one repetitive scene after another either being cute or checking in to see if either is all right. Neither Gallagher Jr. nor Arjona has the skill to make something out of a lackluster script. Those who are experienced with the horror genre are likely to guess that at least one of these two is the final survivor. Yawn.
I got the impression that James Gunn made concessions when it comes to what the movie should really be about in order to make the picture more digestible for the masses. To me, it should be about order versus chaos and yet characters end up being categorized simply as good or bad; whether they are willing to take a life or not for the greater good, initially, and, eventually, for themselves. It does not treat the audience as people capable of processing subtlety. It entertains by means of simplifying nearly everything in order to appeal to the lowest common denominator.
The look of the picture is standard. There is appropriate use of lighting when scenes take place under fluorescent lights, in dim underground locations, atop the high-rise roof where open space is seen for miles but there is no escape. The visual effects are minimal, which I found to be appropriate in a movie like this, and the cinematography captures how offices of a large company might look like. Over time, however, one notices a flatness when it comes to the overall look and feeling of the images and the emotions they create. This is because the plot moves forward but the story remains stagnant. For a picture clocking in at less than ninety minutes, it feels closer to two hours.
Its biggest mistake is not answering questions the characters and viewers deserve. That is, what is the purpose of the so-called Belko experiment? It leaves a bitter taste in the mouth when a mediocre picture proves how mediocre it is by pulling out before giving us an answer—any answer—for the sake of a potential sequel. It reeks of pathetic desperation.