“Succeeds where other horror movies fail”

by C. Rachel Katz

What would you do if a voice in the sky told you to kill your coworkers, your friends? Would you do do it? Could you do it?

Shortly after arriving at the office, the workforce at Belko Industries is instructed to kill two of their members or four of them will die. Whether they believe the voice or not, the Belko employees refuse to turn on each other and attempt to find a way to save themselves. But the voice isn’t kidding around and when his threats are made real, some of the higher-ups at Belko start making the hard decisions.

James Gunn’s script sat in a drawer for ten years before Greg McLean came along and said he wanted to make it. Inspired by a dream, Gunn’s story is one of desperate survival. Trapped in a no-win scenario, the poor sods who populate the film are forced into an untenable situation in which they must make terrible choices. Different from other similar films like Unknown, House of Nine, and the Saw franchise, The Belko Experiment isn’t performed on strangers; these people know each other. It’s one thing to be forced to kill a complete stranger, it’s quite another to have to murder someone you know and like.

Belko‘s strengths lie, in part, in its characters. Of which they are many. You like these people, you don’t really want them to die (with one possible exception). But die they must and you watch it happen, with dwindling hope that your favourite characters will actually make it to the end. And because this is a James Gunn script, there’s humour in the proceedings, all of which stems from the characters themselves. Of course, it’s not funny for the people in the movie, but it’s funny at times for the people watching the movie.

The Belko Experiment
Directed by
Greg McLean
John Gallagher Jr., Adria Arjona, Tony Goldwyn, Sean Gunn, John C. McGinley
Release Date
17 March 2017
Rachel’s Grade: A

A big cast means lots of carnage, and McLean holds up his end of the bargain. A lot of people die in this movie and some of them perish in truly horrible ways. But at no point does the violence feel too outrageous or unbelievable. The stakes are laid out early, and when the Belko workforce starts dying en masse, it’s a wild, chaotic ride. McLean made his bones with the torturous Wolf Creek, and showed a more sophisticated understanding of violence and suspense with Rogue. After another go-round with Wolf Creek 2, he now weds shock and gore with delicate, character-driven comedy and suspense.

Belko isn’t a perfect movie (a plot hiccough near the beginning singles out a potential survivor), but it succeeds where other horror movies fail. For starters, almost everyone at Belko is likeable, which makes it easy for the audience to emotionally invest in the film. And then there’s the fact that nobody knows why this experiment is talking place. It’s possible Belko’s staff are subjects in a social experiment about the limits of human morality, but it’s also possible something else entirely is being tested and observed. Fortune and/or fame often await the winners in similar survival game movies, but the real winners in The Belko Experiment are the scientists, whoever they might be.

And the audience, of course.