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‘The Belko Experiment’: a bad day at the office from hell

A new sub-genre is gaining currency with fright fans, the “kill-or-be-killed” shocker, the latest of which is “The Belko Experiment” from director Greg McLean © AFP/File / GABRIEL BOUYS

LOS ANGELES, United States, Mar 11 – From the haunted house to the escaped lunatic, the zombie horde or the freak possessed by demons, there really isn’t much the dedicated horror aficionado hasn’t seen.

A twisted new sub-genre has begun to gain currency among fright fans, however — the “kill-or-be-killed” shocker, which pits the main characters against each other in a deadly zero-sum bloodbath.

The latest example is “The Belko Experiment,” a low-budget thriller about a group of 80 American expatriate workers at an office block on the outskirts of the Colombian capital Bogota.

The employees are horrified when they find out that they’ve become guinea pigs in a sick social experiment that will lead them to kill their co-workers or be slaughtered themselves.

Due for release on March 17, “Belko” was filmed during an intense six-week shoot in a fully operational, real-life office block in Bogota that had three empty stories.

“We’d go past all these people with their coffees going ‘What the hell’s going on on floor six?’ And we’d be up there running and shooting and screaming all day,” said director Greg McLean.

“There were some very unusual looks from the security guys and we’d stagger out after shooting for hours and hours at the end of the night, and some days I was covered in blood.”

– Ruthless killer –

“Belko” employs a narrative device formalized by movie website TV Tropes as “The Deadly Game,” in which characters are trapped together in a single space and forced to turn on each other.

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Paul Michael Glaser’s “The Running Man,” was an outlier in 1987, but the sub-genre really got going with controversial Japanese shocker “Battle Royale” (2000), which disgusted and thrilled audiences with its depiction of teenagers forced into fighting to the death.

“The Hunger Games,” the “Saw” franchise and Scott Wiper’s “The Condemned” have all since taken their cue from Kinji Fukasaku’s dystopian shocker.

“Belko” is a long-standing pet project of James Gunn, a celebrated indie filmmaker recently enticed to turn his talents to big-budget Marvel movies, who says the scenario came to him in a dream.

He had originally intended to make it himself but was forced to hand his script over to McLean when the shoot clashed with his latest project — directing the sequel to his own smash-hit “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

The moral center of “Belko” is middle manager Mike, played by John Gallagher Jr. (“10, Cloverfield Lane”), who is having an office romance with Leandra (Adria Arjona) and refuses to take part in the twisted game.

Meanwhile, company boss Barry Norris turns into a ruthless killer in a creepy performance by Tony Goldwyn that invokes his treacherous bad guy Carl Bruner in “Ghost” (1990) more than the character for which he is best known these days, President Fitzgerald Grant in ABC series “Scandal.”

– ‘Drenched in blood’ –

Another lead in the ensemble cast is Sean Gunn as the office stoner Marty, a conspiracy theorist who decides the whole nightmare is a hallucination brought on by the office’s poisoned water supply.

A character actor best known for his seven-year stint as Kirk Gleason in comedy-drama “The Gilmore Girls,” Gunn’s star is about to soar with a leading part in his brother’s “Guardians of the Galaxy 2.”

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“There were times when my clothing was so drenched in blood that I couldn’t walk or go anywhere,” he recalled of the “Belko” shoot.

“On the last day in the room that we were shooting in, the blood went above my shoes.”

Amid the exploding heads and bashed-in skulls, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments and the movie succeeds as an genuinely intriguing thought experiment which demands of the viewer: what would you do?

“I would definitely be the one who just hides in the elevator and waits until the end,” said McLean, directing his most high-profile feature since acclaimed Australian slasher “Wolf Creek.”

“In one sense, the movie is a discussion about moral choices. It’s saying ‘Is it right, just because the corporation says we have to do something, that we do it?’ So the film in one sense becomes a discussion about the evil of corporate ideology.”


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