• by Wes Singleton

The Belko Experiment, C-

Rated R, 88 minutes

The bloody, contrived new horror film "The Belko Experiment" is "The Office" meets "The Purge" lived out in a large scale panic room. The low-budget film from the writer of "Guardians of the Galaxy" starts off well with an intriguing premise, but it eventually runs out of gas in the last act, becoming a dumb "Saw" ripoff.

An ordinary day at the office becomes a horrific quest for survival when 80 employees (including John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona, Melonie Diaz, John C. McGinley) at the Belko Corp. in Bogotá, Colombia, learn that they are pawns in a deadly game. Trapped inside their building, a voice over an intercom tells the frightened staffers that two workers must be killed within 30 minutes. When another ultimatum follows, friends become enemies and new alliances take shape, as only the strongest will remain alive at the end.

Directed by Australian film director Greg McLean ("Wolf Creek") and written by James Gunn, writer of "Guardians of the Galaxy," "The Belko Experiment" is an low-budget, ultra violent horror film that glosses over some of its more important issues, such as deadly social experiments and survival of the fittest to become a bloodbath in the last act. It's never really clear, even after the mildly twisty final shot, what the exact purpose of the experiment is.

"The Belko Experiment" is a film lacking in smarts, but it does provide a wider exposure for its charming lead actor, Tony-award winner John Gallagher Jr of stage hits like "Spring Awakening" and movies like "10 Cloverfield Lane," who is memorable here in a breakout turn as a voice of reason. Goldwyn, of TV's "Scandal" is the chief antagonist here, while character actor John C. McGinley of "Scrubs" fame is typecast in one of his typical loudmouth douchebag roles he's known for.

The initial chapters throughout the first act provide the most tension, and about midway through it transitions from subversive and clever to being one of the most violent films of recent memory; clearly it's not enough for a character to hit another with an axe (or in one case, a tape dispenser) just once, they must hit them about a dozen or so times, only for all the shock effect here, which is mainly just lots of blood splattering. "Belko's" most clever bit, the use of tracking devices planted in the head, also loses some steam when people really start killing each other.

Director McLean and writer Dunn overdo it a little too much, and some important themes get lost amidst all the bodies and blood, which are littered everywhere. The silly, uneven "The Belko Experiment" believes, quite literally, that co-workers will murder each other under the right amount of duress. If that's the case, it's time to find a new job. Will appeal to those enjoy this type of thing, but otherwise find something more enjoyable.

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