Office Space collides with The Purge and Battle Royale in The Belko Experiment, a fitfully engaging workplace horror from Guardians of the Galaxy‘s James Gunn. Investing far more in its spectacle than its characters, this is a satisfyingly gory but ultimately uneven film that never feels entirely certain how seriously it wants to take its admittedly smart central idea.
At the centre of what does work in Belko is yet another convincing central performance from John Gallagher Jr. (The Newsroom, Hush, 10 Cloverfield Lane) as Mike, a straight-laced employee at the mysterious Belko Industries, an unspecified government building in Columbia. He heads to work and it feels initially like any other day: the film sets up relationships and characters that should be familiar to anyone who’s worked in an office before. The film’s amiable opening is shattered, however, when the entire building goes on lockdown without warning and an unidentified voice over an intercom demands thirty dead bodies, or all eighty employees will die.
What follows is some viciously entertaining set pieces and the kind of sharp dialogue we’ve come to expect from Gunn, but The Belko Experiment can’t reconcile its entertainment value with any real subtance. When the blood starts flowing, there’s a lot of fun to be had, but the film sets up its central relationships and conflicts, then never really makes any attempt to substantiate them when it’s time to shift gears. Strong performances across the board and breathless pacing mean that Belko is never dull, but there’s a disappointing lack of engagement with its characters that ultimately prevents it from really ever getting under your skin.