The subject of social science experiments are not new territory for the movies. Cinema takes these ideas to the extreme for entertainment. Most are familiar with films such as “Running Man” and “Hunger Games”. What I enjoy the most about these types of films as a viewer is placing yourself amongst those partaking in these extreme human behavioral situations. One of the most famous, dare I say, best vision of this type of filmmaking is director Kinji Fukusaku’s “Battle Royale”. Fukusaku’s film posited a future world where youth were out of control in Japan and 800,000 students walked out of school. To quell this possible insurrection, Japan’s government passes the “BR Act” that subsequently chooses one 9th grade class annually, sends them to an island and has them participate unwittingly in a fight to the death amongst one another with only one survivor. Although this is an elementary synopsis of this film, it is much deeper, smarter, and slicker than it sounds. “Battle Royale” is a classic sci-fi film and a template for films of similar subject. James Gunn, director of “Guardians of the Galaxy”, wrote a script that has now hit the multiplex called “The Belko Experiment”. Gunn is ready to give us his vision of a world that sees the ordinary man take extraordinary measures to survive.
“The Belko Experiment” begins in Bogota, Colombia where non-profit Belko Industries has hired quite a few employees to conduct business including new hire Dany, who has been told that every employee has a tracker placed at the base of their skulls in case of kidnapping and she’ll be receiving one soon. Employee Mike Milch meanwhile has noticed that security has been turning away local Colombian staff and telling them to go home. With all local employees gone, all that’s left are foreign employees. Over the intercom, a strange voice informs them that two must die or several will be chosen at random and with no way out, the staff must find a way survive.
“The Belko Experiment” is a well worn concept executed poorly. There are many compelling ideas that are never fully explored. This could be the fault of an underwritten script or director Greg McLean did not fully realize how to convey the script’s message to screen. Sadly, no performance is truly outstanding, except for Michael Rooker, who lasts all of 10 minutes on screen. Sadly, one character who the audience does connect with early on is put through through the wringer throughout the movie is brought to an unceremonious conclusion it felt like an insult to the audience who put all their emotional investment in them. The conclusion, once again, was compelling, but felt as if the movie just needed to wrap up to make it’s 90 minute movie quota.
Ultimately, “The Belko Experiment” is a missed opportunity that squanders the little inventiveness that it provides. It settles for being an late night splatterfest than telling a more gripping story about the human condition and what choices one makes when put into extreme or dire situations. Belko is better left to the dust bin of Hollywood and erased from James Gunn and Greg McLean’s resumes. Hopefully more people will give a superior film of same theme like “Battle Royale” a rent and appreciate it’s attempt at telling a deeper story making the violence that more palpable and a much more riveting view, something that Belko should have been.
-originally published in MAUIWatch