In THE BELKO EXPERIMENT (2016), 80 Americans working for Belko Industries in Bogota, Colombia, show up one day to work and find armed guards at the gate. As the workers gossip about what’s going on and settle into their normal office routines, a voice comes over the loudspeaker and announces that a game has begun. If three people are not dead within several minutes, six will be killed. Metal walls slide across the windows, sealing them inside. While panicking over what might be happening, nobody takes the threat seriously until six people die. When the workers signed up for their jobs, they agreed to tracers being implanted in their heads in case they were kidnapped for ransom. These tracers can be remotely controlled to explode.
The Voice returns to the loudspeaker and then tells the staff that if thirty of them are not dead in two hours, sixty will be killed.
The result is immediate breakdown into factions spanning human responses to a scenario like this. Some, including COO Barry (Tony Goldwyn) and executive Wendell (John McGinley), want to raid the arms locker and, in an orderly fashion based on utilitarian ethics, come up with thirty bodies. Others, such as well-liked employee Mike Milch (John Gallagher Jr.), sees the game as a no-win scenario and says they shouldn’t play it, as they’re probably all going to be killed anyway and murder is morally the worst thing you can do. Everybody else is caught in the middle, siding with one or the other or frozen in the middle, unable to act.
What a great movie. I hadn’t held out too high a hope for it, as the idea has been done before (BATTLE ROYALE, etc.). But it goes to show you that a basic movie idea can be stellar if it’s done right. There are a lot of characters but all of them are memorable in some way, and you feel every death. The violence and gore is off the charts and works beautifully contrasted with the corporate setting, everybody in suits and skirts grabbing anything in the building that could be used as a weapon. There are some great surprises, people you don’t expect to die buying it in a flash. It’s one of those crazy movies where you find yourself laughing and eating popcorn while watching total terror and mayhem.
The movie offered opportunities for corporate satire, but it didn’t go that way, and I’m glad for it. It didn’t need to be THE OFFICE with extreme violence. THE BELKO EXPERIMENT played it straight and entertained the hell out of me, without reaching for any big lessons or contrived humor. What we’re given is human beings in escalating panic and terror until they find out what they’re made of. The ending serves up an explanation that offers little in the way of surprise but again, how it’s handled was satisfying. The overarching message seems to be most people will kill to survive, but the reasons vary. Even those who are most morally opposed to it just need the right reason.
In short, THE BELKO EXPERIMENT was a ton of fun. Recommended.