October Horrorshow: The Belko Experiment, or, That Guy Battle Royale

I can’t recall seeing a film that had as many moments when I said to myself, “Oh, look. It’s that guy.” The Belko Experiment is chock full of that guys, and they all feature prominently. There’s that guy from Ghost, (Hollywood aristocrat Tony Goldwyn), that guy from Scrubs (John C. McGinley), that guy from The Killing (Brent Sexton), that guy from The Walking Dead (Michael Rooker), that guy from ER (Abraham Benrubi), budding that guy from The Newsroom (John Gallagher, Jr.), and plenty of other that guys and gals that have been featured in Hollywood films for a generation. Why has such an ensemble been assembled? To kill each other in bloody fashion.

From 2016, The Belko Experiment is a battle royale flick, wherein a large cast is gathered and forced to kill each other in an enclosed arena until only one remains. The arena in this film is an office tower outside of Bogota, Colombia. There, Belko Industries has installed a diverse staff from around the world. There are cubicles and computers and phones and television screens scrolling stock prices. It’s all very white collar. Until an ominous voice (there’s always an ominous voice in battle royale flicks), informs the employees that if two of them are not dead in a half hour, more will die. Then metal shutters slide up the outside of the poorly-rendered CGI office building, trapping all those inside.

Everyone is incredulous until the half hour passes and the back of a few peoples’ heads explode. It seems that Belko required all employees at the Bogota office to have chips implanted in their heads, ostensibly to track employees should they be kidnapped. That’s a The Belko Experimentvalid concern in Colombia, but it was all a lie. The explosive chips were inserted to hold leverage over the Belko employees for this battle royale.

Now that everyone knows the voice isn’t messing around, the battle royale can really get going. There are still some fits and starts, and lots of moralizing, to come, but this is when the gory good fun of this flick takes hold.

Many, many characters in this film die, in gloriously grisly fashion. Heads pop, torsos get hacked and stabbed, fire axes cleave bodies and faces, and some characters even get ahold of handguns. All that’s missing are power tools, which is a shame.

The cast divides into those just trying to survive, and those trying to kill. Like in all battle royale flicks, the evil mastermind has made it clear that one must kill in order to survive, yet most characters are sheep, with only a few wolves.

The standout among the wolves is McGinley. He excels at playing smarm, and now one can add psychopathic behavior to his arsenal. It’s no surprise to the viewer that he becomes one of the deadly characters in this film. It was telegraphed quite early on. Before McGinley retires, some filmmaker needs to find a way to get him a star turn as a slasher in his very own horror flick. I think he’s earned it.

Tony Goldwyn also performed well. He’s played a fair amount of ethically-challenged people in film and television, and his character, a high-ranking exec, is no exception. What he brings to the movie is reliable professionalism. There was nothing about his character that seemed forced or unrealistic. That’s impressive when one remembers this is a battle royale flick, where nothing resembling realism normally occurs. His character behaves in exactly the fashion one would imagine a corporate exec would do in a similar situation, but, again, this is a battle royale flick. Bringing believability to his role was a higher degree of difficulty than one might think.

This film features an ensemble, but one character gets particular focus, and that is Mike Milch, the character played by Gallagher. He’s the moral center of the film, and also the guy viewers might most want to punch in the mouth. Moral centers are something that filmmakers and writers seem to feel a film like this needs. I disagree. I don’t need a character in a bloody horror movie to remind me that killing is bad. I’m watching this flick because in the cinematic universe, killing is good. Killing is entertaining. And Milch is even more of an annoying nitwit because he holds on to morals that only apply outside of the situation he is in. Stop whining and get to killing.

Gallagher is a good actor. He can play a bad guy, too. But in this flick his character’s refusal to surrender his patronizing morality until the bitter end makes no sense. There is no righteous stand he can take that doesn’t seem hopelessly naïve, and that hurts the character.

Writer James Gunn and director Greg McLean are no stranger to gory flicks. The Belko Experiment isn’t as polished as earlier films they have worked on (the CGI really is awful), but this is the type of romp that will satisfy horror gorehounds, and it could have gone even further. Not great, not bad, The Belko Experiment works because of the blood. It takes familiar tropes and adds nothing to them, doing so unapologetically. Should one wish to see almost eighty people die in just under an hour and a half, one could do worse.

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