“The Belko Experiment” (2017): Effective, Gory, and Satisfyingly Gruesome

Before they even walk in the door and the credits for The Belko Experiment can roll, the employees of Belko Industries know it’s not going to be a normal workday at their remote Colombian headquarters. Not only are there heavily armed guards checking every car entering the parking lot for explosives and contraband, but more than half the workforce – the Colombian Nationals’ half – is refused entry into the lot and sent home.

And that’s just the beginning of what is guaranteed to be the worst workday of their lives.

Directed by Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) and written by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, Slither), The Belko Experiment is a blood-soaked Battle Royale that takes place in a sealed-off office building instead of on a deserted island. Things kick off when a mysterious voice comes over the office intercom and tells the Belko staff they have 30 minutes to kill two employees or they (the voice) will do it for them. Everybody naturally thinks it’s a prank – or some kind of twisted HR exercise – until time is up and steel plates start slamming over all the widows, sealing the building. That’s when the heads of four employees start to graphically explode.

Now, the voice tells them, they’ve got 2 hours to kill 30 more people or 60 more heads will bloodily go boom.

Let the games begin!

Or sort of begin. While the premise is strong, if a bit overly familiar, and the acting for the most part better than expected, McLean tries too hard to make a big artistic statement with his film when he should be concentrating on finding new and exciting ways for the Belko people to die. For example, there’s a real clunky scene showing the employees scattering like roaches trying to find a way to safety. It plays out in slow motion while an operatic soundtrack blares from the speakers. It’s supposed to be artsy; it is not. It is dull to watch and excruciating to listen to.

Thankfully, McLean shows a lot more style when it comes to building the tension throughout the film. Anyone who has seen some of his other films, particularly Wolf Creek and Rogue, knows McLean isn’t shy about splattering the screen with guts and gore and his talents for such graphic violence are quite effective in The Belko Experiment. The slaughter in the employee bathroom and the shootout in the lobby are not only satisfyingly bloody, but well shot, too. It’s the way he handles the quieter moments, where plans are made and sides taken, that especially gives the film its edge.

The cast of The Belko Experiment does an admirable job, particularly the work of veteran character actors like Tony Goldwyn (2009’s The Last House on the Left) and Michael Rooker (Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer). The always entertaining John C. McGinley (Platoon, Scrub) is just awesome as Wendell Dukes, the creepy mid-level executive who emphatically enjoys being part of the gruesome Belko experiment. Yet, John Gallagher Jr. (10 Cloverfield Lane, Hush, The Newsroom) and Adria Arjona (Emerald City and the upcoming Pacific Rim: Uprising) struggle to balance the film as the romantic leads.

The Belko Experiment (3 / 5)

John Black
John Black still remembers his first horror movie, sneaking in to a double-feature of Horror House with Frankie Avalon and a Boris Karloff film he can’t remember the name of but will always remember for giving him his first glimpse of cinematic nudity as one of the actresses moved from the bed to the door without putting on any underwear! (Fond family memory: That glimpse, when discovered by his parents, cased John’s mom to call the theater and yelling at the manager for letting her son see ‘such filth’.) Luckily, John was more impressed by the blood and horror than the bare haunches and quickly became a devotee of the genre.

John has been a professional movie reviewer since 1987, when his first review – of a Robert De Niro film called Angel Heart – appeared in the entertainment section of The Cape Codder newspaper. He’s been writing about film ever since, primarily now as the entertainment editor at Boston Event Guide. Hardly a day goes by when he doesn’t watch at least one movie, which is how he thinks life was meant to be.