For a film touted as being “Office Space meets Battle Royale,” I had trouble finding any amount of humor in this movie.
The Belko Experiment offers an interesting premise: 80 office workers are trapped in a building and told to kill each other or else the bombs implanted in their heads will explode. It’s a twist on the Battle Royale-type horror genre that’s found a niche within the market, probably made more famous to American audiences with The Hunger Games series. To it’s credit, the genre lends itself to interesting characterization. How would normal people react when put into this situation? Would they try to work together to survive or would they try to kill everyone? The philosophical questioning alone makes for interesting scenes where people try to discuss whether or not it’s moral to kill people so you can survive.
The setting also lends itself to interesting comedy. The typical office setting means people having to get creative with how they kill people. Lamps, scissors or even tape dispensers are used as potential weapons, with the humor coming from the creativity of the weapons. Unfortunately, the potential humor is never used. Instead, guns are introduced early on and with that, it becomes a fight between people with guns and people without.
There’s a lot to be said about hype and expectations. The trailers for the movie made it out to be a black comedy movie in the vein of The Cabin in the Woods. It was probably billed that way because of James Gunn’s success with Guardians of the Galaxy. Watching the movie, however, told a different story. While there are humorous moments, there aren’t enough of them and the moments aren’t funny enough that I would call this a horror-comedy at all.
I shouldn’t make this a point against the film, however. A film should be judged on it’s own merits and not on how it was sold to me through trailers. Drive taught me that much, a film billed as a The Fast and the Furious-style action film but was actually a character study of a getaway driver trying to be a good person. So, The Belko Experiment is not a comedy. What it is is a horror movie without thrills.
The downside of a Battle Royale style horror movie is that in the back of the audience’s mind, you know that eventually, people are going to start killing each other. No matter how much people try to work to save each other, when it comes down to the wire, they’re going to start killing each other. There’s a sense of inevitability when watching a movie like this and when watching a movie with a built-in expectation, nothing really surprises you. Instead, you spend the entire movie simply watching things happen.
The Belko Experiment is a movie where I watched things happen. People died and I sat there, a little tense and on edge, but never really shocked when people died. Only one death shocked me but instead of thrilling me, it angered me because of built up expectations that were dashed with an unfulfilling payoff. This is definitely a point in the movie’s favor, though, that I was actually invested in the characters.
Within the first ten-minutes of the film, we are introduced to a wide-variety of characters and instantly, we identify with them. We understand them and we like them. In fact, I’m not sure if there was one character that I didn’t like. It’s saddening then that I didn’t feel like any character had any sort of fulfilling character arc, except maybe John Gallagher Jr.’s character.
The Belko Experiment was a film of expectations that just aren’t met. I was expecting a comedy but I didn’t laugh. I was expecting a horror movie, but I wasn’t that thrilled by it. There wasn’t even a moment that I could call my favorite. I was simply sitting in the theater and things were happening before my eyes. When the movie was over, I went to a taco restaurant, sure that I had wasted my time.