I had wanted to see this movie when it was still in theaters, but one thing led to another, and I was unable. Over time I maintained my curiosity (and hype to a degree) for the movie. When I did get a chance to finally watch it recently, I was left a little… disappointed. The movie isn’t bad, but there are some pretty significant missteps in my opinion.
For those that haven’t heard of it The Belko Experiment takes place in an office building in Colombia. You are first introduced to a small cast of characters, most of whom seem ok, with a few notable dirtbags. After some time seeing who we will be following the group is locked in their office and told over the loudspeaker they have a certain amount of time to kill two employees. When they fail to do so, four random employees die. After that they are told they have two hours to kill thirty employees or sixty will die, the result of which is chaos. The group is eventually divided between those that want to try to find a means of escape and those that want to get the killing over with.
The result is a pretty tense ride. While some people are trying to come up with plans, they face various roadblocks including other employees. A lot of fighting, planning, and failure happens as a result. As a member of the audience you want to root for the group that is trying to escape, but it becomes fairly clear that this won’t happen. The first part of the movie leads to a conclusion that you will most likely see coming, but you will still find yourself hoping you are wrong.
Then the two hours are over, and another announcement is made, and things completely fall apart. From this moment forward everything is a mess of gore and action, with the tension taking a pretty extreme back seat for just all out war.
The movie does some things right. The first is that it makes you care about most of the characters. You know they are all going to die, it’s pretty easy to see from the get-go, which makes it all the more painful that they are well developed solid characters. When watching horror movies there is usually a list of characters that I am okay with seeing get killed off, this movie really only has three. It also doesn’t hurt that those three have solid motivation for doing what they do (though two remain nonredeemable in my opinion).
It also is well paced. The movie could have quickly turned into an action movie instead of horror, but due to pacing, they are able to keep it at least somewhat in line with horror. There is decent build up, good use of taking a break and making the audience laugh, and a decent amount of suspense. It still leans slightly more to the action end of things than say a truly slow-building horror film, but not so much that it loses it.
It also has a great deal of gore and violence without feeling like a torture porn movie. Due to the very nature of how the characters die (I won’t spoil it for you) it has its gore requirement built in, and it’s used well. Aside from just the random deaths when things fall apart, and it becomes a killing spree, you get a lot of spectacle kills that horror fans have come to love.
The main things the movie does wrong can mostly be tied to it trying too hard. As far as the film itself goes it overuses dramatic scenes set to music way too often. This can be an extremely effective tool in movies; it can serve to make horrific scenes even more and adds a splash of style to a movie. When used too many times it has the opposite effect.
The next problem I have is with the ending, so if you don’t want to know, I suggest you skip a bit.
In the end Mike, who most people root for, does end up winning. He manages to go the whole “game” without killing until the very end. When he is announced as the winner a few soldiers lead him out to meet the person in charge of the game. The man explains that it’s nothing more than an experiment, one without any real goal in fact, rather they just wanted to see what would happen. Mike informs them that he’s planted explosives on them and manages to kill them all. At this point I am already starting to lose it, but then Mike leaves and it turns out he was just part of many different versions of the same thing and phase 2 will begin. With horror, a solid ending is key to the whole experience, and this is not even an ok ending. In an effort to be “shocking” the movie misses a chance to actually… shock. Mike winning and then leaving the office with no explanation, no closure, nothing, that would have been shocking. It would have been a dark ending to a dark movie. Instead we are given a weak conversation followed by something that is trying a bit too hard to be like The Twilight Zone. I mean it’s far from the worst thing I’ve seen, but it undercuts a lot of the movie.
End of Spoilers
At the end of the day, I am mixed. The movie does a few things very well, and I’d like to give it credit for that. However, it had a lot of potential that I personally felt was wasted. That’s not to say it’s a bad movie; it’s not. It’s entertaining, gory, a touch emotional, and even a bit suspenseful. It just had a lot of potential that it didn’t live up to. My bottom line would have to be it’s something horror fans might enjoy, just don’t go in expecting something great.
My bottom line and disappointments aside I do think that The Belko Experiment is part of something I see as a positive shift in horror. Genres go through ebbs and flows, and sadly I think horror was in a pretty bad spot for some years. Lately, however, it seems we are in another horror renaissance. Remakes are being done with more care, and original horror movies are happening more frequently. For all, it’s problems The Belko Experiment does try to be something different and is better than a bad slasher remake hands down. If this is one of the “worst” horror films we’ll be seeing for the next few years, then we have some damn good years ahead.