Since Hollywood hasn’t had enough of social experiments pitting normal everyday people against each other, another film inspired ripped off from Battle Royale and The Hunger Games is upon us. It’s called The Belko Experiment, brought to you by director Greg McLean and written by James Gunn (known best for writing and directing Guardians of the Galaxy). This feature stars John Gallagher Jr. (Short Term 12), Tony Goldwyn (1990’s Ghost), Adria Arjona, John C. McGinley (Scrubs), Melonie Diaz (Fruitvale) and Michael Rooker (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Walking Dead) and takes place in a high-rise office building in Bogota, Columbia.

In the office building, 80 American employees are tasked to kill each other, as ordered by a mysterious voice over the building’s intercom. Many believe it to be a prank of sorts until heads explode – literally. Because of the high kidnapping rate, every employee has a tracking chip installed in their necks. The chips, though, are actually explosive devices and can be detonated remotely. Things become grave immediately after the first batch of employees are killed, and from that point a moral and power struggle ensues that will determine the fates of everyone involved.

Honestly, there isn’t much good coming from this. Conceptually, Belko was interesting enough to check out, but my curiosity served me poorly this time. I knew, based on the trailer, that it could potentially be an inferior knockoff of the two films I just mentioned and, sadly, I was right. McLean and Gunn focus on the violence and its shock value, and its depth only goes deep enough to make weak stabs at office politics and faint social commentary. More so, Belko is an amalgam of The Hunger Games and Office Space, but without the humor. There are attempts at jokes, courtesy of James Gunn’s brother, Sean (playing a paranoid cafeteria worker obsessed with dumping the “tainted” water containing hallucinogenic and brainwashing ingredients), but all of them fall flat. The tone is so serious that nothing can really cut the tension.

That tension, though, comes mainly from the callousness of the violence. As mentioned, Belko is designed only to shock, and since there are so many characters (all of which are outlines and not people the audience can relate to) there’s nothing of substance during its 88-minute running time. Yes, this one is actually too short and lacks any exposition, but it’s as such because there are no concrete ideas contained within.

That makes a lot of sense because it’s rumored Gunn dreamt up the concept and hammered out a script in about a week. The final product resembles a rough draft – not much was done to hone it by developing any of the characters or giving the story more depth. Belko’s execution is simple – lay out the story, present the terms and have at it. In this case the simplicity is actually apathy, and everything onscreen is cliché, full of misplaced intentions. One particularly cringeworthy scene involves a beautiful woman pulling open her top in order to seduce a coworker in order to save her own life – the seducer ends up with a broken neck. At this rate, you have to wonder if this was made only in an attempt to capitalize on Gunn’s recent success (a rather obvious conclusion, mind you).

Cutting through all of that, watching The Belko Experiment was not fun. It’s a joyless piece of fiction that does two things – it gives one a better appreciation for films like Battle Royale (mind you, I liked that cult favorite from the get-go), which did better with its drama and social commentary; and it makes most viewers wish they hadn’t wasted their time on such drivel. Making matters worse, by the conclusion the reason behind the experiment is vague, unfulfilling and a small piece to a big puzzle. Make sure to avoid this experiment – it fails on many levels, but most importantly it fails to entertain.

2 stars out of 5

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