"THE BELKO EXPERIMENT"
There is something unsettling about the
building that houses the Belko company. Located near Bogota,
Colombia, it pokes out of the ground like a shrine of unrealized
dreams; a structure that seemingly was the first phase of what
was going to be a burgeoning business community. Instead it is
surrounded by, well, mostly nothing. Lot of grassland, some wild
dogs and not much else.
Yet each day several dozen people, many
relocated U.S. citizens, converge upon this building for their
daily dose of mundane tasks. Do the work, collect the paycheck,
go home. The company's purpose, vaguely, is to help place
American workers with corporations throughout the world.
Then one day there are deviations from
the norm. Intense security checks at the entrance to the parking
lot. A military presence. Workers native to Colombia told to go
home. After that the day pushes on. Until the announcement
Writer James Gunn ("Guardians of the
Galaxy") has said in interviews he literally dreamed the concept
of "The Belko Experiment." It is a mix of cold corporate
manipulations and perverse social tinkering with the ultimate
question being: How far would you go to survive?
The announcement, piped in via an
in-office PA system nobody seemed to know existed, delivers a
chilling directive by The Voice: kill a few of your fellow
workers, or more of you will die. Initially this is dismissed as
a sick joke. But when metal shutters slam over the windows and
escape is no longer an option, a shocking and bloody emphasis is
added; meaning this is not a joke and whoever has hands on the
levers definitely is in control.
Tony Goldwyn plays Barry Norris, the
boss of this facility, and his stance of maintaining composure
and keeping everybody on one path of calm and rational behavior
is easily doomed to failure. While most of the employees cower
and shudder on the border of panic, others break up into
factions. Mike Milch (John Gallagher Jr. from "10 Cloverfield
Lane") and his co-worker and girlfriend Leandra (Adria Arjona)
go on a mission to see if they can summon some outside help.
Milch logically believes that if the employees bow to this
experiment they are all doomed anyway.
Norris is joined by the office creep
Wendell Dukes (John C. McGinley) and a couple of others who in
their calculated reasoning assume it is best to be armed. This
foresight can come in handy when things really get to the down
and dirty final chapter of who will be the last ones standing.
Melanie Diaz plays Dany Wilkens, the new
employee who is finding that this first day on the job is more
hellish than she ever could have imagined. James Gunn's brother
Sean is Marty, a drug-addled employee whose paranoia offers some
moments of levity and silliness.
Then there is Michael Rooker as Bud, one
of a two-man maintenance staff who unfortunately provides little
impact on the bloody proceedings.
The Big Brother element is most
chilling. It seems any strategy the workers resort to is
detected by the ubiquitous camera coverage in the building, and
The Voice, seeing all, coolly advises that these efforts will
only lead to more death. Ominously the only ones who seem to be
getting free reign over their plans are Norris and his
increasingly dangerous and hell-bent-on-surviving group that has
all the artillery.
This all is leading to the inevitable
fest of spurting blood and a body count that mushrooms. Who
lives and who dies offers only a part of this study of human
nature. What Gunn also explores is who can maintain any
compassion under such dire circumstances.
Adeptly paced under the direction of
Greg McLean, "The Belko Experiment" is effective horror, as it
taps into a common supposition held by employees that they are
seen only as evil and costly necessities by employers who are
always seeking ways to find them expendable. Then it takes an
uncompromising look at human behavior when it is reduced to its
lowest denominator: survival at all costs.
"THE BELKO EXPERIMENT"
A delightfully wicked dark comedy,
"Prevenge," now available on
shudder.com, proves, among other things, that appearances
can be deceiving.
Written and directed by Alice Lowe, she
also stars as Ruth, a young woman late in a pregnancy who looks
sweet and vulnerable, as functioning that near to child birth
certainly is much more difficult. But by the way, she kills
people. This is not a spoiler. The title, "Prevenge" pretty much
reveals that something dreadful is about to happen.
"Prevenge" is yet another movie that
proves a low budget and tight shooting schedule can be overcome
and a nice-looking, well-crafted film can be created. Shot in
only 11 days, "Prevenge" also had an astoundingly short
pre-production life. The concept behind the movie was thought up
by Lowe shortly after she learned she was pregnant in real life.
Within two months the script was ready for shooting, and despite
being seven and a half months along in her pregnancy, Lowe took
on the lead role.
"Prevenge" begins sublimely with Ruth in
a pet store, saying to the store's owner she is seeking a
reptilian pet for her son. The store owner seems borderline
sleazy and good at injecting sexual innuendo, but the subsequent
sudden and jarring violence seems a bit overkill of the victim.
What is the motivation for this brutal murder?
Well, whatever is driving Ruth to her
shocking actions is revealed as the film progresses. The father
of her baby was killed in a climbing accident, and Ruth seeks
out others in the climbing party, particularly the leader, Tom
(Kayvan Novak), on who she pins most of the blame for the death.
But there is something else. Ruth is
hearing the voice of her yet-unborn baby, who urges her to do
the killing. Also, in some funny examination scenes, Ruth's
midwife (Jo Hartley) tells Ruth that the baby in her womb is
conducting a "hostile takeover."
"Just so you know, you have absolutely
no control over your mind or your body any more," the midwife
informs Ruth, only adding to her psychosis.
Lowe's performance is both chilling and
comical, as she appears to be befuddled, clearly in over her
head -- at one point she tries surveillance on Tom that is so
inept he easily knows she is tracking him. Yet there is a
calculated manipulation to Ruth's madness.
Not that everything comes off
flawlessly. One of Ruth's potential victims, Len (Gemma Whalen),
manages to break away and disappear momentarily, only to
reappear wearing boxing gloves. Ruth is like, are you serious?
"Prevenge" is the kind of weird movie
that will have its loyal fans. Lowe's study of Ruth is both
intelligent and quirky. She is worthy of sympathy via her
mourning and misfiring mind functions, yet she is offing people
who are guilty of nothing more than being held accountable for a
death that probably was an unfortunate incident of which nothing
is to blame but bad luck.
The opening scene of "Life," under the
direction of Daniel Espinosa ("Safe House"), is breathtaking, a
single-tracking shot within the confines of a space station, as
a crew of six people work to capture an incoming space craft
that contains some soil samples from Mars.
After that, "Life" becomes "Alien-lite,"
a rehash of that classic horror movie's story of a hostile alien
being with no conscience and only driven to survive bringing
terror to a crew that cannot exactly abandon ship easily.
The cast is stellar: Rebecca Ferguson,
Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Reynolds, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ariyon Bakare
and Olga Dihovichnaya. But when the most colorful character is
the first to die, the film flatlines as far as human interest is
concerned. Of course by then it is a matter of the humans trying
to outsmart an increasingly resourceful and menacing being.
Viewing that opening scene on a big
screen is almost worth the price of admission, but only if you
go to the cheapest matinee.
"LIFE" Official Trailer: