Have you ever wondered what would happen if your workplace was overtaken by someone and you were forced to kill your co-workers? What would you do? How would you act? Well Belko Experiment gives you that exact scenario, with a flavour of dark comedy thrown in there. The killing game genre has recently been blowing up in the 21st century into somewhat of a cult phenomenon. While some gain mainstream popularity like Hunger Games and Battle Royale, many go under the radar in the Western market. This is a genre that treads a fine line between tasteless gore and nuanced psychological exploration. Much like what I feel in regards to the zombie genre also applies to this one as well across all mediums, it has slowly devolved into a tedious genre for fans of schlock and gore rather than the interesting takes on the human identity. There are many solid takes on the genre that differentiate themselves by defining an identity past the game itself, but does The Belko Experiment have that?
The set up and premise of this film is pretty simple, an evil corporation has hired a bunch of stupid people, planted chips in their heads to “monitor” them, and is forcing them to kill each other. The way they explain the set up makes you question the rational minds of these people who would willingly throw themselves overseas, to a job out in the middle of nowhere, having a chip planted in your head and not thinking anything was wrong about it. That alone should show you what you are going to expect from this film, a killing game that will be slathered with dark comedy. This isn’t a film that is going to attempt to be complex like some of its best contemporaries, but one that will revel in the killing that will ensue throughout the picture.
This isn’t necessarily a problem if we could care for the characters. Yet the film feels less inclined on proper characterization than by given everyone a motive for doing what they are going to do. In the opening moments of this film we are shown numerous people with stereotypical personalities, some with noticeable disdain for others to bring in a sense of cathartic justice in the end where most likely one will kill the other. It creates a predictable train of thought where you know where allegiances are going to lie and how things will most likely play out, almost like cliques in a workplace which is fitting. That is where the problem comes in, you really only care for people out of the aspect of fearing death for other humans. That is the basest human emotion one can have for a character in this scenario, as that is what a killing game is supposed to at the very least make you feel. This is more a dissection of methodologies than effective character depth or storytelling, portraying something that may be interesting to think about rather than watching.
The Belko Experiment is more of a test of idealism against realism to see what ultimately the better alternative is. Well you and I both know how a movie like this is going to end, with an extremely large body count. People’s heads are going to explode, people will get slaughtered in unnatural and kind of a darkly comedic fashion and it will be pointless because they all are playing into the hand of those watching over them because this is a zero-sum game. People will die, they have the place locked down and we will have to watch the carnage happen even if we don’t want to. That is the type of film The Belko Experiment is, a beat for beat killing game based on a sense of nihilism. A dark comedy that enjoys cracking a few skulls for comedic effect or enjoys the ironic timing of death. A decent look at nihilism, where the entire film to some degree is pointless.
Now this entire principle turns me off of a high grade for the film all together. The lack of emotional connection and focus does not sell me on a movie like this. Yes Sean Gunn has some fun with his druggie character and the way he perceives this whole mess of a situation, but besides some other moments of dark comedy this movie lacks a funny bone effective enough to make you forget the carnage going on. The tone can get dark, and that lessens the effective nature of comedy. That is where it kind of makes me think. Is this film a decent take on nihilism as a piece of filmmaking or an excuse to kill a bunch of people in the name of dark comedy? Therein lies the fundamental issue for me, it kind of doesn’t matter because at the end of the day that explanation will not change someone’s feelings towards what they have watched.
Either endgame for the film still makes it a basic killing game with barely anything new to bring to the table. It is a technically good film as the setting, the pacing, the acting, everything was kind of on point in that regard. Made for some fun cathartic moments because the actors kind of sold me on not their character but themselves. It just has nothing to offer in the ways of being memorable. The ending however is a bit too loose, with not enough meaning to it to warrant such a grandiose final image. For me this film was never something I would rave about in any category, a bit disappointing in how basic it can be, and the comedy was more miss than hit because of the subject matter. They didn’t even have enough comedy to warrant it being called somewhat of a comedy, it felt like a little bit of flavouring because of Sean Gunn (who is one of the better parts of the film as a whole). It was kind of a tonal mess instead of a solid comedy which can be a bit depressing.
Nihilism pervades the genre, but from a narrative standpoint if nothing matters in the film does that make the film itself a good nihilistic piece of cinema? I mean I am not going to say I am an eminent scholar on nihilism, but to say that the film is a good example of it is not so much of a stretch. This isn’t a badly made movie. On the contrary, sometimes the film can be too good for what it is portraying with some solid scenes and good moments of directing and writing. It has a solid cast of great actors that do a good job in the environment, good set design to sell the atmosphere and for the most part just have fun with it. So does that mean the film was made to be pointless on purpose? Well again there is not enough information to really piece together a solid yes or no, but rather something someone can ponder if their mind takes them to that direction. If you don’t think it’s worth the time and energy, then it is exactly what it is. A basic killing game with great technical direction but lacks effective characterization or narrative depth.
In the end The Belko Experiment lacks a drive to really exist. It lacks a point, which could be the point especially with how it handles its material. Yet that very idea of nihilism isn’t going to really attract people to watch it beyond people who like the film enough to go further. It doesn’t beg questions to be answered, philosophical pondering that other films won’t ask the same, or really offer anything to the average viewer. It just isn’t a film that warrants delving into it further and instead will be a fun time for genre fans. For me I would say I guess I enjoyed parts here and there, as the acting talent really helps to bring out James Gunn’s script. The technical aspects can make you forget how bland the scenario can get, but all in all I think I’d sooner forget about this film due to distinct lack of interest than anything else.
To those involved in the film I can see the potential everyone has, just being someone who has seen the genre transform in different ways through better contemporaries this one feels more generic and unmemorable. Its the problem with a lot of films like this, nothing to make you feel one way or another. Which is sad because there is some great talent in every aspect of the filmmaking its just not enough to make me say its worth much more than a cursory glance.
There is also a really solid interview with star John C. McGinley, who plays Wendell Dukes, discussing his take on the film and you can get a feeling of him as a person as he discusses his passion for family. Solid read with a link is right here.
So have you seen The Belko Experiment? What is your feelings towards the killing game genre? Feel free to leave a comment down below and don’t forget to have yourself an amazing day!