The Belko Experiment is an ugly, ugly film. An ugly film that may or may not be aware of how morally pessimistic it is. An ugly film that tries to hide its excess of violence behind the plot of an evil social experiment, but we the audience know better.
Suddenly an average day at the office becomes a fight to the death, as a strange voice over the intercom starts telling the employees of the Belko Corporation to kill one another. The 80 employees, many of whom are friends, must now turn against one another for survival. Many will die, and only the strong will live.
One thing that this film manages to do well is hold your attention. From just the first few minutes of the film, the viewer is already sucked into the unusual premise. Since the film is only 88 minutes long, everything goes by at a relatively fast pace. The Belko Experiment wastes no time whatsoever, and dives head first into the madness.
I found the acting to be pretty solid in The Belko Experiment. I enjoyed John Gallagher Jr.’s performance as the protagonist, as I felt he represented a sane point of view towards the violence. At least, till towards the end of the film. I also really liked all the main antagonists as well, including Tony Goldwyn and John C. McGinley. They were both pretty absurd and crazy, playing the parts they were given well. I never knew what move they would make next, which I guess is another plus.
The lighting work of The Belko Experiment is also worth mentioning, as I feel it helps to make the film more stylish. At one point the building our cast is stuck in goes pitch black, and all there is for them to see is a glowing red light reflecting off their faces. This was a good visual effect, and there are plenty of other good effects like it throughout the film.
Unfortunately, what gets me is that The Belko Experiment maintains a morally ambiguous message in the worst kind of way possible. The audience sees the violent murders of many middle-class workers for, ultimately, no reason whatsoever. Even our main protagonist, someone who believes that life is sacred and that murder for self-preservation is unethical, regresses into a murderous spree. This shows the audience that even the good guy who tries to do the right thing can turn into a homicidal killer. This completely disregards any possibility of the film ending on a positive, morally uplifting note. What a depressing, overly violent, and downright pessimistic message.
This level of pessimism and violence doesn’t mix well with the ironic humor The Belko Experiment tries to pull. A lot of the attempts at humor got no response at all from the theater audience. Most likely because there was nothing funny for the characters to joke about, given the situation. Other than a few funny line deliveries by the stoner character, the humor just comes off as tasteless.
I’ve been trying to understand what this film was originally trying to go for, but I’m not exactly sure. At first I thought the film might go for a social conformity message, about the lengths some people will go to obey authority. It makes sense, and it would be the obvious choice, but I feel the ending of the film throws this out the window too. I won’t give too much away, but the final resolve is pretty cliched and doesn’t end with a satisfying conclusion.
There will be plenty of people who really enjoy watching The Belko Experiment. Some may even defend it and call it a satire of some sorts, which is complete and utter hogwash. I give the film some credit, as there are some very fine aspects built into the story. I think the lighting was consistently stylish and unique, the characters interesting (especially John C. McGinely’s role), and for what it’s worth it was engaging. However, what I am not okay with is the morally pessimistic message that the film semi-consciously delivers the audience. It begs the question of, “What the hell was the point?” What was The Belko Experiment ultimately trying to get across?
This isn’t Jason Voorhees murdering teenagers in a campy slasher flick. This is middle-class people that are friends with one another, brutally murdering each other on screen for self-preservation. Some may not see the difference. To me however, there is a huge contrast.
If you’re at all interested in seeing a thriller with some solid performances and an unusual premise, maybe The Belko Experiment is a film for you. I for one couldn’t stand this flick, and will remain far away from this and any pointless sequels.
The Verdict: D+