Monday, 24 April 2017

The Belko Experiment

War Gent Belko

The Belko Experiment
USA 2016 Directed by Greg McLean
UK cinema release print.

You know, I’ve probably had to overuse the expression “does what it says on the tin” rather a lot in my reviews over the last few months but, with regard to this film and the way it’s being marketed, it definitely is the “go to” phrase for this particular concoction. When I first saw the trailer for this a month or two ago, it looked like nothing less than a full on remake of the famous Japanese adaptation Battle Royale... with, perhaps, just a smidgeon of Cabin In The Woods thrown in for good measure. Battle Royale has the plot of one high school class taken away by the government every year for a live, televised event which see the kids fitted with exploding collars and then forced to kill each other within a specific time so the last person standing can be ‘the winner’. The Belko Experiment is exactly the same plot but, in this case, it’s adults who are working in an office building in Columbia who are part of the bloody carnage and the motivation, at least as it’s presented here, is slightly different in terms of why this ‘game’ is happening.

The film stars John Gallagher Jr. as main protagonist Mike Milch (who I recognised from 10 Cloverfield Lane, reviewed here). It's he who first realises that the trackers the company fits it’s employees with, inside their heads in case they are kidnapped, are actually tiny bombs planted in their skulls to detonate anyone who doesn’t play by the rules of the game. This is the equivalent of the exploding collars from Battle Royale and, of course, it’s used by the writer to establish the rules of the game in no uncertain terms pretty soon into the proceedings. Milch is joined by some pretty convincing actors and they all do their thing in the quite claustrophobic setting of the office building, which has been sealed up with metal to prevent anyone from escaping.

The film is not the kind of film I would associate with the writer, James Gunn, who directed the two Guardians Of The Galaxy movies... it’s a lot more sadistic and horror driven than that. It’s not an actual horror film but it is an intensely driven action thriller and the use of gory violence elevates the grimness of the scenario quite effectively at some points. It would be true to say that it’s not nearly as grotesquely bloody as many modern horror movies out there these days but, at the same time, it is quite edgy and certainly uses the visual syntax of horror to maintain a similar effect. The tension in the suspense scenes is quite high and the whole exercise has a certain amount of dread and, alas, a predictable inevitability about just where everything is going to be heading for the end of the movie.

About that ending... I’m not going to reveal anything here but I will say that I wasn’t expecting much in the way of actual hard answers as to the reason this carnage is going on. Sure, you do get some generic ones and there is, I suppose, a partial sense of closure at the end of the movie. That being said, the final shot of the film, which is a slow pull back looking at... something... very much sets this movie up to be only the first part in a franchise of Belko movies, to be sure. It’s in no way subtle and the very last line of the movie, spoken just before the credits roll, makes it very certain that if this film is successful then the studios will be able to start churning out the sequels.

That being said, despite its predictability, The Belko Experiment is a well made, somewhat entertaining (although also pretty mean spirited in its lack of morality and general unpleasantness) thriller which even has a nice line of musical jokes in the songs used in the soundtrack. The opening title song, for instance, kick starts the ‘fun’ with a series of foreign language covers which, if you know the English lyrics, provide a throwaway commentary on the action and intent of the film from the start. So that’s all good.

Wow... so this is one of my shortest reviews since my first year of writing them on this blog but I really don’t have much more to say about this movie, I’m afraid. If you are into the spectacle of violent cinema where people’s bodies are there to be penetrated by slow or fast moving objects as flesh is sliced and diced in ostentatious splashes of crimson, then The Belko Experiment is probably your kind of thing. If, however, you’re not into films where the characters are set up to be slaughtered in a mass celebration of violent bloodletting without, it has to be said, all that much criticism or judgement of such behaviour in the way in which the film is shot or in the issues it raises, then it’s probably something you should maybe approach with a little more caution. It’s not personally something I’d be that happy to watch again (unlike, for example, Battle Royale) but I do believe there’s a certain audience who will love this one and it's really not badly put together. Bon Appétit.

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