Is '"Battle Royale" in an office' too much of a gross-out?
Perhaps the biggest selling point for The Belko Experiment is James Gunn: the writer-director behind Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy films penned the long-gestating script. With Wolf Creek‘s Greg McLean the one to actually bring this story to life, does the bloody “Battle Royale in an office” setting deliver more of a blowout or a gross-out?
The Belko Experiment takes place in a Belko Industries office building based in Bogotá, Colombia, where one day steel walls jut up over the windows and doors, locking all the American workers inside. When a voice comes over the loud speaker and commands them to kill a portion of their fellow coworkers, their panic turns into a nightmarish, bloody fight for survival.
Starring in the film John Gallagher Jr. (Short Term 12), Tony Goldwyn (Scandal), Adria Arjona (Emerald City), Gunn’s brother Sean Gunn, Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy), and David Dastmalchian (Ant-Man) star among the ensemble cast.
EW’s Darren Franich was kinder than most other critics reviewing the film. “Belko trends too proudly toward ultraviolence, but there’s true-pulp transgression in the film’s shamelessly sick kicks,” he wrote. “A mass execution starts off troubling and then, somehow, becomes hilarious. (Paraphrasing Stalin: One death is a tragedy, many deaths are farce.) If ‘hilarious mass execution’ sounds upsetting, I shouldn’t mention the exploding heads. We live in disturbing times. Belko is an appropriately disreputable, gleefully disturbing movie.”
Others, including one critic who walked out of a press screening over the slaughter fest, were more brutal — leaving the film with a 53 percent on Rotten Tomatoes with the latest wave of reviews.
Read more reactions below.
Jordan Hoffman (Vanity Fair)
“Roughly 65 minutes into a press screening of the 88-minute film The Belko Experiment, a voice cried out in the darkness: ‘For God’s sake, enough already!’ The voice, much to my surprise, was my own — and, after asking a colleague to contact me later to ‘let me know how this garbage ends,’ I raced out into the New York streets with a pounding in my chest and the onset of a rage-induced headache. I am well aware that writing about movies is quite the cushy gig. I’ve had outdoor jobs in inclement weather; I’ve worked in sales; I even had a boss who made me go out and buy his pornography. Still, there’s one thing those of you working in the real world can do that I can not: you can change the channel. You can leave the theater. Most of the time, I can’t. But Greg McLean’s hyper-violent gross-out pushed me past the point of professional courtesy. I offer no apologies.”
Robert Abele (The Wrap)
“McLean, who’s earned his own admiration in fright circles for the bloody Wolf Creek movies, shows some initial comic flair for the desperation of the situation. But he’s no artisan of sustained black humor, and none too skilled at drawing out the suspense in a movie whose showdowns — and requisite gore — are predictable. Mass killing set to classical music isn’t so original, either. The best thing about this broken copier of a movie is its cast, a tangy mix of oddballs, friendly faces, and jackhole typecasting. (McGinley in particular relishes his ability to unnerve.) Ironically, even this strong ensemble becomes another reason Belko is so dispiriting: everyone loses his or her personality when squared off in a fight to the death.”
Glenn Kenny (The New York Times)
“The movie might have been better served by a director not hellbent on rubbing pretty much every head wound in the viewer’s face. Mr. McLean, perhaps determined to leave no cliché unturned, also wallows in the cheap and hackneyed irony of choreographed slaughter accompanied by Dvorak and Tchaikovsky. The Animal Farm meets Texas Chainsaw Massacre climax yields some clever twists. But The Belko Experiment made me think that maybe it’s time to stop trying to solve the trolley problem (that is, do you sacrifice one life to save five workers from being killed by a runaway train?) and start worrying about the people who invent such conundrums.”
Benjamin Lee (The Guardian)
“While it’s hardly a work of groundbreaking originality, it’s a heck of a lot more fun than the majority of horror films churned out at the moment. This is partly due to the film’s tightly controlled tone. It could have been an outrageous black comedy but Gunn, working with Wolf Creek director Greg McLean, goes for something a lot harder. There’s a thin vein of dark humor but when we get to the nitty gritty of who’s getting killed, it’s sour, gruesome stuff and the pair take great pleasure in turning innocuous office workers into cold-blooded killers. The mayhem is expertly choreographed and marks something of a return to form for McLean whose post-Creek films have all proved disappointing. Because despite the low budget, there’s an ambitious level of universe-setting going on here and in a genre where ambition is often left buried underneath a decaying pile of severed limbs, that’s not to be scoffed at.”
Emily Yoshida (Vulture)
“The Belko Experiment is the kind of film many people will walk out of, and those who stick it out to the end just to see the curtain pulled back will be sorely let down by an ending so anti-climactic I could spoil it right now and you’d ask, ‘That’s it?’ If the script feels undercooked, that’s because it was: Gunn originally wrote in the period between 2006’s Slither and 2009’s Super, then walked away from directing the project during a time of personal upheaval. As he put it, making this movie ‘didn’t seem to be the way I wanted to spend the next few months of my life.’ Why he or the film’s producers thought anyone else would feel differently remains a mystery.”
Keith Phipps (UPROXX)
“If the film never gets beyond a sophomore dorm-level probing of human nature, it’s still darkly compelling on its own terms. And it winds its way toward some truly shocking twists, particularly in its final act, when the bodies start to pile up and the number of players still in the game starts to dwindle. It’s a not-for-the-faint-of-heart thriller that suggests, under the right circumstances, even the faint of heart might find themselves making some choices they never imagined having to make.”
Dennis Harvey (Variety)
“Though there are plenty of bit players here, McLean and Gunn do a fine job of distinguishing a large number of characters in circumstances that soon grow very hectic, with some of the more notable ones played by Melonie Diaz, Owain Yeoman, David Del Rio, Michael Rooker, David Dastmalchian, and Rusty Schwimmer. The filmmakers likewise keep the action menu as diverse as it is relentless (and often gory). There’s a pretty wide streak of humor here, but it resists splatstick in favor of occasional bleak wit and throwaway quips that don’t intrude on the essential suspense.”
Simon Abrams (RogerEbert.com)
“You don’t need to squint very hard to see the satirical elements that might have elevated blood-soaked horror flick The Belko Experiment to greatness. The premise — a group of employees are forced to kill each other at the whims of an anonymous employer — is promising. But the script, penned by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy, Slither), is undercooked, its violence foregrounded to the point of distraction. Many people will either love or hate this film based on how gory and aggressively cynical it is. But realistically, Gunn’s biggest conceptual failure is that his scenario is thoughtlessly cruel. The characters could have embodied traits of typical office drones and managers, turning the film into a savage black comedy. But those elements aren’t developed beyond a point, making the movie’s only selling point its excessive gore and violence.”
A.A. Dowd (The A.V. Club)
“Is it an uneasy collision of sensibilities that keeps the movie from settling on a consistent tone? Gunn, who wrote the screenplay years ago, specialized in a much nastier breed of genre fare before getting scooped up by Marvel; his tendency to treat sudden, hideous death as a dark punchline (see Super, or the Dawn of the Dead remake, which he also wrote) gets a big workout in Belko’s periodic strings of exploding noggins. McLean, by contrast, tends to play extremity nightmarishly straight. Consequently, The Belko Experiment teeters between ‘fun,’ gory brutality and a more seriously disturbing variety — the latter epitomized by the film’s centerpiece, a chillingly organized process of elimination that echoes mass shootings and historic Final Solutions in equal measure. After that crucible, who’s really in the mood to see someone get their face bashed in with a tape dispenser?”
Matt Goldberg (Collider)
“The best and only good thing I can say about Greg McLean’s The Belko Experiment is that it provides a greater appreciation for Kinji Fukasaku’s Battle Royale. Both films deal with innocent people being forced to kill their peers or be killed themselves, but whereas Battle Royale works valiantly to make sure you care about its ensemble cast and provides just enough of a sci-fi barrier to make the violence bearable, The Belko Experiment is a nonstop parade of ugliness masquerading as insight. Working from a script by James Gunn, McLean wants a film that can both horrify and titillate his audience, but all he can do is churn our stomachs with nihilistic violence.”