Written by Kyle Hughes
“The Belko Experiment” tries so hard to be a clever movie. It traps a group of employees in their office building and pits them against one another to see who will kill who when forced to. It raises questions about the depths of human nature while also commenting on corporate America. And it also wants to be a comedy. It can be all of these things, but it neglects the foundation for its critical and comedic elements, because it is too enamored by its concept.
In horror, comedy, comedy-horror and really any narrative film, its foundation should be its characters. But “The Belko Experiment” doesn’t spend enough time setting them up. The film is only 88 minutes long, and the setup is as compressed as it can be. The characters that seem like alphas will be alphas. The creeps will stay creeps. The gay coworker is gay. The stoner is a stoner. So, we don’t get deep characters to be manipulated. We barely know their names before the bloodshed starts.
This is why the “The Belko Experiment’s” tone is inconsistent throughout the rest of the film. We don’t have our characters’ personalities so the gore comes off as unnecessary and the commentary like an under-filled cherry pie.
It could just be a funny gore-fest, but the effects aren’t amped up enough to be comedic and come off as more visceral. They imply that some more powerful truth is there behind the violence. They imply that this gore should inform the twisted situation our characters have been put in as well as the depths to which they are willing to sink to adapt to it. But we aren’t made to care for them, so there is no reason to be shocked or saddened by the things they do.
This is where the tragedy and comedy in the movie should come from.
The tragedy should confront the ideas set up by the movie’s premise. What if society’s gentility is all a show and when cornered, coworkers, friends and lovers alike will choose survival over mercy. This could be tragic. But the real tragedy is that the film’s writer James Gunn didn’t use his characters to blend the violence into the comedy.
The comedy would be more even throughout if the violence were more excessive. As it is now the comedic moments tend to bookend each scene of brutality. Our characters just witnessed several murders and now they’re in an elevator with soft, inoffensive music playing in the background. The joke being that isn’t it weird that they’re so calm after just witnessing such carnage. But the joke should be the carnage itself. Comedy is found in the heart of tragedy. Truth is found in the heart of comedy. Answers to the questions posed by the film are found in that truth.
“The Belko Experiment” poses many questions, but answers none of them.