Globalisation has opened up workforces… to exploitation. A multinational non-profit organisation facilitating the hiring of American workers overseas, the staff of Belko Industries’ facility in Bogotá, Colombia, know that the corporate slogan “Business without borders” in reality translates to cheap outsourcing, reducing overhead costs by hiring locals who are willing to work cheaply while the company maintains the virtuous appearance of helping those less fortunate.
An ultra-modern block of metal reinforced walls with a private security force ensuring no unauthorised access, even the ant farm has aspirational plastic bugs resting on the glass ceiling, but today things are running differently with additional checks at the gates and a portion of the workforce conspicuously absent, but an announcement on the intercom makes it plain the business is going to take an unprecedented twist.
Of the eighty people in the building, two are to be killed by the others; should the workers fail in their task, more will be killed. The responses vary from incredulity to confusion to consternation but few take it seriously until four random colleagues are suddenly executed in front of them, the “security tracker” implants of all employees actually miniature explosives. The next instruction states that thirty of the remaining seventy six must be killed within two hours, or sixty will die… This, then, is the Belko experiment.
Writer James Gunn’s resume is long and varied, hotfooting between comedy, horror, action and adventure, often in the same project, the 2004 remake of Dawn of the Dead, Slither, Super and Guardians of the Galaxy, while director Greg McLean’s output has been more conventional, Wolf Creek, Red Hill, Wolf Creek 2, bloody slasher horrors and thrillers, his attempt at supernatural horror in The Darkness a mediocre melange of ideas done better elsewhere.
The hallmarks of both are present, Gunn’s love of an ensemble cast bringing in anti-establishment Mike (10 Cloverfield Lane‘s John Gallagher Jr), frantic executive Barry (Scandal‘s Tony Goldwyn) whose moderate position becomes increasingly extreme under the influence of the unstable Wendell (Scrubs‘ John C McGinley), new employee Dany (Ghost Team‘s Melonie Diaz) as well as regular collaborators Michael Rooker and younger brother Sean Gunn as maintenance man Bud and twitchy conspiracy theorist Marty, while McLean brings tension and plentiful escalating violence.
Unlike the psychology experiments of Stanley Milgram in the early sixties where volunteers were asked to administer electric shocks to the supposed subjects, actually actors faking their pain to ascertain how the volunteers would respond to an authority figure making demands contrary to their conscience, the Belko experiment involves no such bluffing or deception.
Nevertheless, any experiment requires a purpose, and within the walls of Belko there is none, instead playing out the same nihilistic game as Lord of the Flies, Battle Royale or The Mist as those trapped inside factionalise and turn on each other, the voices calling for reason drowned out or gunned down by those who immediately reach for weapons, the numbers quickly whittled down to those who are most ruthless or who have wisely concealed themsleves.
With a significantly larger cast than the six rounded individuals of Vincenzo Natali’s Cube who questioned and theorised about the reasons behind their captivity, vocalising the need for information if not able to provide the answers, this is something which The Belko Experiment conspicuously fails to do, a narrative void which means that the story never develops beyond a premise, instead reliant solely on shock and violence to achieve its end. With no context given for a wider goal or hint given that it should be taken as a satire on the pointless self-destruction of modern economics and politics, The Belko Experiment cannot be taken as anything other than a failure.
The Belko Experiment is currently on general release