TV & Movies

The Belko Experiment Continues a Weird Trend

the belko experiment movie

TV and film are chock full of what I refer to as the Survivalist genre, cinematic work predicated almost entirely on what human beings will do when choice, consequence, and morality are put to the test. These works often feature post-apocalyptic backdrops like The Walking Dead, or pit people in kill-or-be-killed scenarios like The Hunger Games. Regardless, the chief conceit remains the same: human beings are intrinsically self-preserving and will brutally demonstrate this fact when faced with their own annihilation.

Trap 80 employees inside of their office building and tell them to reduce that number by 30, and you can start to see where The Belko Experiment is going.

belko experiment movie

Now, this could have been a very different movie, maybe even a great one. Take the silly idea of a full-on office war, dress it up in a hilarious Anchorman-street-fight style, and let the fun commence. Let it be Office Space meets Battle Royale with a catchy soundtrack and the entire inventory of Office Max as an impromptu arsenal. At the very least, it could have tiptoed at the boundaries of excellently bad films, much like Kong: Skull Island did (after-credits scenes aside).

Unfortunately, The Belko Experiment takes itself too seriously and delves too far into its premise, trading comic beats for horror beats every step of the way. Even worse, it had to try to say something. It further propagates the dull-witted cynicism of The Purge, that humans are individualistic and predatory. Sure, the main character is usually the shining beacon of hope looking out for someone besides himself in these dark times, but the rest of humanity is painted in these wide, bleak strokes that tell far more about the minds behind the project than people as a whole.

the 100 show

I’m reminded of The 100, an apparently good teen-centric CW show that I just can’t seem to sink my teeth into. Later episodes I caught live always seemed interesting (if confusing), but I couldn’t get past the same kind of self-serving anarchy presented early in Season One.

Mild spoilers for the early episodes of the show ahead, but one particular episode stood out to me. A space colony is set to run out of air in a matter of months unless the population is culled to a more suitable number. Only the governing body of the colony knows this information, and they plan to secretly shut off oxygen to a portion of the colony so as not to incite a riot by releasing this information to the public. Before they can enact their plan, a dissenter releases the truth about the lack of oxygen to the entire colony, seemingly sentencing the population to mass panic and hysteria.

But that’s not what happens. Instead, 300 or so men and women volunteer to end their lives to keep the colony going for a little while longer.

belko experiment

Optimistic? Perhaps, but no more than The Belko Experiment is pessimistic. The truth is likely in the middle. Human beings are at once individualistic, communal, self-preserving, self-sacrificing, predictable, and complex. It’s why we can watch a Holocaust film on one channel and a hundred men proclaiming, “I am Spartacus,” on another.

But for the past while in film and TV, we’ve witnessed a deconstructionist trend that tears away the confines of polite society and reveals a hideous portrait beneath. Heck, The Walking Dead is fully exploring its own anarchistic themes like never before. Directors, writers, and producers focus so intently on humanity’s evils that it chokes out what little air might be left for something good or, at least, something close to it.

And so The Belko Experiment will likely fall into obscurity, remembered for being nothing more than Guardians of the Galaxy director James Gunn’s pet project. This could have been a wonderful little film — a cult classic even — had it not given us the same pseudo-psychology lesson taught by a far less engaging professor.

Gadzarnit, this movie could’ve been the next Hot Fuzz. Freakin’ Hot Fuzz! Ah screw it, I’m gonna go watch Hot Fuzz now.

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