Experimenting with ‘The Belko Experiment’

Everyone has the unborn thought of going on a rampage. Questioning perhaps how close their limit is to the threshold of chaos and violence. Man is there always, despite our most honorable opinions of our nature. The most common of us and even the most exceptional can be pushed to the brink. Some narratives experiment as to how hard or soft we would actually have to be pushed. The Belko Experiment unleashes the answers to these questions and more. Helmed by Australian horror director Glen Mclean, who brought to life the true story behind Wolf Creek, and consistently contributed to it’s mythos in film and literature. Mclean pairs fittingly with a script by James Gunn, written and forgotten before, after, and during his divorce from his first marriage. The project was left askance, mainly because Gunn didn’t want to watch friends and loved ones kill each other for the months after splitting from his then spouse, Jenna Fischer.

James Gunn, writer and director of cosmic super heroes in The Guardians of the Galaxy, pens a brutal diagram of humanity condensed in a cut-throat office environment. Gunn, an underdog from an alternative film world, found his roots in schlock. But one might say, good schlock. It is my belief that his sardonic wit and gaze found its focus in a twisted world nurtured by Lloyd Kaufman and his Troma films. The Troma Team once did production management for “My Dinner with Andre” but exploded into the B-movie horror world with the gory and comical film “The Toxic Avenger.” If you watch that movie along with the slippery slope of sequels you’ll understand, perhaps, where a writer like Gunn harnessed his craft. These are filmmakers on the outside of the industry, and well outside the norm. The outcasts who are blacklisted from Cannes for parading around the Riviera and the red carpet, spewing fake blood, and loving every moment.

Penning Tromeo and Juliet (1995) was Gunn’s first feature length screenplay. A splendidly sickening and hilarious take on Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers that also may not care if they are, in fact, siblings. Through the years, Gunn developed his craft as a filmmaker with the renegades at Troma and eventually broke out into more mainstream roles as a writer for the Scooby Doo movies and the Dawn of the Dead remake which garnered the script that year’s Bram Stoker horror award. The Belko script occurred to Gunn in a dream, or nightmare, and was greenlit prior to him writing and directing 2010’s Super and stayed in limbo as Gunn moved on to guarding the galaxy with Marvel.

Filming of The Belko Experiment was, unsurprisingly, quick as the film does not leave the office building located in Bogota, Colombia. The cinematography is sharp and often in the dark, especially when the killing really gets started. Office workers file into the Belko building as casually as any normal morning routine. We’re introduced to the cast, recognizing faces going along which the film generally promises will not be making it to the conclusion of the tale. Our characters make themselves busy milling about when suddenly impregnable metal walls seal the building from top to bottom and trapping everyone inside. Almost immediately, a voice beckons for them to murder one another or else an explosive device goes off in their heads. After a few bloody demonstrations of the Voice’s power, relationships are tested, office drama becomes all too real.

Symbolically, the ones at the top of the food chain begin the trimming the fat within the company by systematically killing from the bottom. Budget cuts. The voice that dictates the crumbling shape of humanity within the building soon intensifies the killings by offering reward to the last man standing. The ending reveals itself as the type of experiment we’ve witnessed and we are left to wonder if the ultimate experiment would be our own sensation of the feasibility this Belko thing presents.

We live in violent times when high school, nightclub, or office shootings are all too common. Is it here, in the Belko Experiment that we again must face the ineffable nature of our being. Is it better to look away from it or to face it head on. What’s more is that within all the violence there is still heart, there is redemption from even the darkest of places. I picture the writer in that nightmare, placing his heart with the good guys but knowing that the bad are infinitely more myriad.

Critics didn’t like this film. It wasn’t received well, though it did make its money back eventually. I warrant it as a cultural experience that brings one closer to the body of written work by an outsider who found a voice through methods that were out of the ordinary. Troma makes trauma a little bit nicer to deal with because of the honesty of the thing. We face these things because we need to, and we write these things to enjoy the horror of it all. If we didn’t would we be able to face it? If we look away, would we neglect that there is love even in our worst times? Am I overthinking this? Watch The Belko Experiment, it’s entertaining, and its words are endearing enough to send a message to the vigilant.

Erich Onzik

Erich is a sentient spiritual parasite that inhabits the bodies of human hosts until they've served their purpose. Currently, he possesses the body of a writer, cartoonist, and butcher living in NYC. He's written short pieces for The New York Times, Thrillist. He also wrote a graphic novel, and enjoys peddling it at bars.

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