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Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

March 24, 2017

This is Where Our Tax Money Goes!

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If you were to ask me the tone of The Belko Experiment (2017), by Greg McLean, I wouldn’t be able to supply an answer. Is it a satire? Is it serious commentary? This film involves a corrupt system, a subject that many movies may include for the next four years. So, what is it? What does McLean want the audience to take away? Let’s not waste any time and take a look. The plot is like The Hunger Games set in an office building. Employees are sealed in with indestructible iron and have to kill each other to escape this deadly experiment. It made me think of the CollegeHumor: Final Destination series.

The opening is just what you would expect from a bad thriller. There is way too much time spent on characters that the audience doesn’t care about, because they know they are all headed to their ultimate demise. The film tries to make you emote towards so many characters at once that it prevents any character development. Instead, the characters are all tropes with quirks. For example, there’s the druggy, new girl, black guy, corrupt business leader, psychotic and perverted one, a hero and his girlfriend. I wished that the story focused more on a couple of characters so that they were more relatable. The one character the audience can connect with is the new girl, Dany (Melonie Diaz), and she goes on quite an adventure through the office. I thought she would survive while everyone else killed each other. But, spoilers, she dies, rendering her whole storyline pointless (a storyline to which an absorbent amount of time was dedicated). I guess it was a ballsy move to suddenly kill her off at the end, but it just pissed me off.

There are quite a few plotlines that don’t go anywhere. For example, there’s Wendell’s (John McGinley) perversion towards the hero Mike’s (John Gallagher Jr.) girlfriend Leandra (Adria Arjona). It builds up to make it seem like he will try to take advantage of her during the panic, but he never does anything.

The set-up of a social experiment in an office space is a good idea, and the people do react realistically. However, not all of the ways people would react in the scenario were addressed. The film focuses on the killing spree, but there’s also those who hide, think it’s a conspiracy and even those who accept their fate. Also, two guys go crazy and think the water is drugged. The only time there’s a different response to death is when a woman tries to give herself up to the CEO (Tony Goldwyn), to beg for her life. I would have liked to see more time dedicated to the variations in their extreme reactions.

I understand that thrillers often need to stretch the suspension of disbelief, but these scenarios were just daft at times. First, everyone goes to work when there are armed men at the entrance, and the local Columbians are sent home. And, no one really questions it. If it were me, I would gun it out of there and call in sick. Second, why didn’t they question the bizarre things they had to do to get the job, like getting a tag in their head and signing off on being part of an experiment? It makes even less sense since they know about the experiment, but don’t ask questions because they think it will be harmless. Third, why would the experimenters suddenly have guards on the day of the experiment and not as part of their regular protocol? It could affect the data that they supposedly worked so hard to collect. And, why don’t they check the winner of their experiment’s pockets to make sure he doesn’t have anything on him to fight with? They had been looking at him the whole time and knew what he had.

The score threw me off when trying to determine the tone. There was classical music playing during mass slaughter to try to be pretentiously ironic. But, during the opening and a fight scene, there was Latin American music. No scene with fun Latin American music is supposed to be suspenseful. This could be a parody of horror, but there are so many other suspenseful, dark scenes that it  seems out of place. Then, there are more, for lack of a better term, human scenes. My favorite scene in the movie was when three characters are in an elevator when the mayhem starts, and have a conversation that doesn’t feel forced or contrived. The chemistry in the conversation was believable, you felt like these people really knew each other from work. But, the rest of the time, it felt like you were watching lab rats, like they’re supposed to be.

The intense action of the film is well executed, which seems to be the reason for the film to exist. There’s exploding heads, shot heads, cut heads and even more destroyed heads. Maybe the director had a brain fetish? Fans of gore will definitely like this movie, as heads are quite literally bashed. The effects are good too, except when the CEO snaps a woman’s neck, and her head is unconvincingly backwards. Suspense builds in intensity, as people become more bloodthirsty. But, it becomes too over the top in its gore. And, using office appliances as weapons, while resourceful, is ridiculous. Earlier, the characters shame a girl for picking up a fork for protection, but later on, the final kill is death by scotch tape! Scotch tape! I guess it shows how desperate the characters get for weapons, but I found myself cracking up that entire scene.

The movie’s big twist is something you probably figured out already: that the Belko Experiment is one of many social experiments. And, they even mention this before the last shot reveals the lone survivor  among lots of other survivors. So, it’s not so much of a twist, just an excuse to make sequels. And, who exactly paid for this expensive system with armed men, indestructible iron (that they have instead of the military for some reason) and expenses in dealing with dead bodies and destroyed property? Is that where our tax dollars go? Where else would they get their money? I say stop giving these people money to do experiments, or at least stop making any sequels. Between this film’s mixed tone, lack of character and lack of sense, it seems only to exist for mindless action, experimentation and gore. If you’re into that, maybe you’ll like it. Or, maybe you’ll find it interesting what the people will do under extreme pressure and find it realistic. I think it was intended to make people talk about the situation in which the workers found themselves. But, for me, I couldn’t stop talking about all of the irritating plot holes. Two ways to save this film would be documentary style, using all of the hidden cameras like in The Truman Show or by being more of a parody like in A Cabin in the Woods. As is, I’d give it a 2.5 out of 5 hats for keeping some interest but still being irritating. Anyway, I have to go. I think we just went into lockdown.

Trip Hastings is a sophomore in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at gh357@cornell.edu.