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article imageReview: TIFF 2016: ‘The Belko Experiment’ is designed to ensure success Special

By Sarah Gopaul     Sep 17, 2016 in Entertainment
‘The Belko Experiment’ is an engaging thriller that takes audience into the centre of a trap designed to turn formerly amicable co-workers against each other in a ruthless fight for survival.
In an attempt to understand how humans carry out certain acts or why they exhibit specific behaviours in particular situations, the scientific community conducts social experiments. Designed to recreate or mimic predetermined conditions, the test subjects’ responses are monitored, recorded and examined to try to gain a greater understanding of how or why people do things. Some of these studies and/or methods have been controversial, though they’ve provided invaluable statistics. However, key elements of these trials are the participant’s consent and assurances to prevent physical harm — The Belko Experiment lacks either of these components.
The day begins like any other… except that upon arriving at the secluded Belko office building located in an undeveloped area of Bogotá, employees are greeted by increased, armed security. After seemingly unwarranted and rigorous inspections, some personnel are allowed through while others are turned away. It’s curious, but no one thinks much of it until a mysterious voice broadcasting through the entire facility informs them they must kill two of their co-workers before the designated deadline or pay the penalty. Spending their time debating the validity of the threat, it’s not long before they realize there’s nothing empty about it nor is there any escape. They quickly turn on each other with the alpha males banding together in the guise of a greater good and another group seeking alternative solutions for their deadly predicament. But those holding them hostage want results — by any means necessary.
Trapped in a pressure cooker that demands action or surrender, it doesn’t take very long before chaos consumes the building. The “gamemaker” (to borrow a term from The Hunger Games) has planned the experiment in a manner that ensures results. They’ve also selected a wide variety of personalities to create particular conflicts amongst the employees as they debate their options and eventually have to work with or against each other to survive. Most of them are quite intelligent, but with varying degrees of compassion and survival instincts. It’s incredibly disturbing how quickly some of them devolve into a makeshift Gestapo, deciding who should live or die based on arbitrary criteria that conveniently also spares their own lives.
It’s the truth in this type of story that makes it upsetting. While it’s unlikely anyone could actually implement such a senseless and unconscionable experiment without consequences, it’s the people’s reactions that actually seem plausible which are the most frightening. Arguing that people wouldn’t act so self-servingly in a similar situation is naïve — just look at history. When it’s kill or be killed, the human will to survive can cause people to do atrocious things. Luckily for audiences, this translates into an excellent story idea and compelling narrative in the hands of writer/producer James Gunn and director Greg McLean, who made difficult decisions regarding the types of head explosions to feature in the film.
Gunn, who is best known as the director of Guardians of the Galaxy, has described how this bloody and horrific idea came to him in a dream almost 10 years ago. Like a man possessed by his characters, he locked himself away and feverishly completed the script for the film, which was then locked away in a drawer for several years until a financier had the courage to make the film as it was meant to be made. Thus there’s no shortage of blood, violence and terror in this engrossing social experiment intentionally run amok. And it’s also quite funny. Gunn finds a way to inject this ghastly situation with levity that is in no way out of place and actually works to enhance the narrative. It’s this combination of horror and humour that makes the film so enjoyable.
Shot on location in Columbia, the film stars notable actors and actresses, including Josh Brener, Melonie Diaz, John Gallagher Jr., Sean Gunn, Mikaela Hoover and Michael Rooker. Bringing together such an assorted ensemble to make this movie is a tribute to everyone’s commitment to the picture. This movie will leave a lasting impression on audiences and that is largely owed to the insane script and disturbingly convincing performances.
The film had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. Don’t miss the rest of our TIFF 2016 coverage.
Director: Greg McLean
Starring: John Gallagher Jr., Michael Rooker and Sean Gunn
More about The Belko Experiment, James Gunn, TIFF 2016, Toronto international film festival, Michael Rooker
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