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  Belko Experiment, The Downsizing
Year: 2016
Director: Greg McLean
Stars: John Gallagher Jr, Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley, Melonie Diaz, Owain Yeoman, Sean Gunn, Brent Sexton, Josh Brener, David Dastmalchian, David Del Rio, Gregg Henry, Michael Rooker, Rusty Schwimmer, Gail Bean, James Earl
Genre: Horror, Thriller, Science FictionBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: It seemed like just another day at the office for the employees of the Belko Corporation as they drove into their employers' office block, this one situated just outside Bogota, Colombia, where a collection of Americans had been hired to take jobs. To keep them safe, they had been fitted with trackers, tiny chips implanted into the back of their heads, just under the skin, so that if there were kidnapped they would be easy to find again, Colombia not always being the most welcome region for Americans. This was all very well, and the morning began unremarkably aside from the armed security seeing them in outside, but then a special announcement was heard on the Tannoy...

They didn't even know they had a Tannoy, and further than that, they didn't know they were part of the experiment of the title in what turned out to be another clone of Kinji Fukasaku's celebrated sci-fi bloodbath Battle Royale. What more was there to be said on the subject of a group of disparate people stuck in one place forced to bump one another off? Nothing that had not been said before, on this evidence, but set aside the air of overfamiliarity, and you would have a surprisingly decent spin on the Japanese original that added a dose of workplace politics to the mix. Some office drones may have fantasised about killing their colleagues, but you would hope they wouldn't act on that.

Here, in this scenario, the gloves were off, and though the opening scenes see a mostly content set of open plan workspaces, there were occasional cracks in the unity showing, such as Leandra (Adria Arjona) and her attempts to put off the resident sex pest Wendell (John C. McGinley), something the drama could build on once that announcement began to sink in. What did it say? It told them to murder some of their fellow employees or else they would start to be picked off one by one, and when they don't believe the voice, they are shocked into doing so when it turns out that tracking device is not what it seems: it may track them, but it also contains an explosive to keep them all in line.

After that, things escalate quickly, too quickly for some viewers who found this unbelievable. Two responses to that: if the characters did not divide into killers and potential victims, it would not be a particularly thrilling watch with them all sitting around in tears waiting for their termination, and also if you had ever been in an emotionally toxic working environment, seeing the way common niceties were swiftly thrown off in favour of the law of the jungle, red in tooth and claw, The Belko Experiment may have struck a chord in you. Fortunately such situations do not often lead to vengeance and a need to put those who have wronged you in their place with weapons, but then again, you would likely not be the one considering violence - the antagonists and bullies would be instead.

Which was precisely what happened here in a cartoonish exaggeration, but with a serious-minded approach and belief in the morality of its more noble characters, even if predictably it took an eventual dim view of humanity and believed that if push came to shove, we all had it in us to take an axe to face of the person who had made it their business to be our personal tormentor. You may well take issue with that, but again, this had a thriller premise with slasher flick stylings and science fiction trappings, so obviously it was going to present the options to most probably get the suspense setpieces established. As it went, James Gunn's script was pacily directed by Greg McLean - Gunn was going to direct until he got cold feet, but it was felt the screenplay was too good to let go, which was true, but mostly because it had become a popular design for contained characters in effort such as this. There were quite a few to choose from in this subgenre of trapping people in one place, but this was one of the better examples, well-cast and suitably engrossing. Music by Tyler Bates.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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