It’s been a while since we’ve seen a true survival horror-style film hit the big screen, but we got one in the busy month of March with the horror thriller “The Belko Experiment”. Billed as “‘Office Space’ meets ‘Battle Royale’”, “The Belko Experiment” may not really be a work of horror art, but it is a rather enjoyable movie going experience that utilizes many horror tropes rather effectively, even if we’ve seen it all before and seen it done better.
“The Belko Experiment” follows a group of 80 employees of Belko Industries with the setting being at one of the company’s main facilities in remote Bogotá, Colombia. What starts off as a normal work day quickly turns to panic as the employees are locked in and a voice over an intercom commands them to start killing each other, with the number of requested deaths and the severity of the consequences of missing the mark increasing with every stage of the “game”. As terror spreads throughout the building factions begin to form, one led by the branches COO Barry, played by Tony Goldwyn, who embraces the orders of the mysterious voice, and the other led by the more passive and less violent Mike, played by John Gallagher, Jr., who believes that despite the consequences of failure taking human lives is not an option. As the numbers dwindle, the limits of right and wrong are bent in an intense fight for survival.
First off let me say right off the bat that “The Belko Experiment” is a fun movie. It caters to all the tropes and clichés that every horror fan will certainly enjoy. It has moments of awesome tension and discomfort, especially as the numbers dwindle and you find yourself routing for this character to die or this one to live all the while knowing exactly how it’s all going to end. While this makes “The Belko Experiment” massively predictable, it also leaves things open for some creative and brutal kills and the feeling of not knowing what or who is next keeps your guessing until the inevitable finale. As predictable as the movie is it’s a fun ride and one that holds up much better than many of it’s predecessors, especially those that try to embrace the survivor horror theme.
It also challenges the viewer to think of what they would do if they found themselves in this situation. While the film relies heavily on its suspense and the killing spree that makes up the bulk of the story it does raise some alarmingly real questions about human nature and what anyone would be willing to do to survive and how one would juggle that challenge while so many more are watching. It’s with these subtle cultural themes that the movie finds it’s real purpose.
However, as enjoyable as “The Belko Experiment” is it really is hard to overlook it’s predictability and lack of originality. While the setting and premise can be seen as imaginative, these all fade into obscurity when you realize we’ve still seen all this before. The movie breaks very little new ground and as exciting as everything is we only truly get invested in a handful of the characters because we already know who is doomed from the start so it’s hard to even bother caring too much about them. While this doesn’t really detract from the movies fun and gruesome premise, the predictability of how things unfold with every challenge presented to the characters could make even the most unfamiliar movie fan say, “saw that coming”.
While “The Belko Experiment” is certainly entertaining, it’s not revolutionary and it’s far from the most memorable films of even its own sub genre. If you’re a horror fan looking for a nice thrill this movie packs enough subtlety and a unique enough setting to do the trick. However, if you’re looking for something new and truly unique, as thought provoking as “The Belko Experiment” is at times it’s nothing it really is nothing haven’t seen before. Same cliché characters, same premise, different atmosphere and puppet master basically. Going back to the tagline I mentioned earlier, as fun as the movie is to experience it lacks the charm of “Office Space” and the grit and unpredictability of “Battle Royale” and doesn’t really pack much of a punch beyond its deeper themes. Still, the movie teases a sequel and if I’m being honest I’d totally watch it just to see what’s next.