The American staff at the Colombian office of Belko Industries find their workday quickly descending into bloody anarchy when they are sealed inside their office building and a disembodied voice over the PA instructs them to kill a certain number of their fellow employees – or else a greater number will be killed in their stead. What first seems to be a macabre joke turns out to be anything but – not only are there armed guards waiting outside, ready to shoot anyone who makes a break for freedom, but every employee’s surgically implanted anti-kidnapping GPS device turns out to have an explosive component. It isn’t long before battle lines are drawn, office supplies are being put to creative and violent use, and it becomes apparent that there’s only going to be one survivor. It’s all very Lord of the Filing Cabinets.
The Belko Experiment could have been a pretty standard, if inventively gory, riff on Battle Royale, but in the hands of Greg McLean (Wolf Creek, Jungle), working from a script by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy), it’s a savage satire on modern office culture and life at the coalface of late capitalism. Never has the full horror of the term “human resources” been so apparent. The characters here are product to be used and disposed of, and no matter what efforts they go to to drag themselves to the top of the (corpse) pile, that’s all they are. Occasionally McLean hammers his metaphors home a little too hard – the opening shots of chicken in cages and meat being cooked on the ramshackle streets of Bogota, drawing parallels between our characters and other living things unlucky enough to be considered commodities, work; the ant farm on one of the office desks not so much. However, we mustn’t grumble too much about the lack of subtlety in a movie about a cross-cubicle all-in massacre.
Still, that’s a pretty bleak thesis we’re working with, but it’s wrapped in a brisk, bloodily entertaining story. There are some pretty resourceful humans for us to root for here, too – John Gallagher Jr’s office nice guy, Melonie Diaz’s new girl on the job, Sean Gunn’s stoner conspiracy theorist, Michael Rooker’s resourceful janitor. There are also risible villains who rise quickly to the top of the food chain and will do anything to stay there, chief among them Tony Goldwin’s COO, who pursues a murderous and entirely selfish agenda while paying lip service to the greater good (management, am I right?), and the great John C. McGinley’s office creeper turned brutal henchman. The fun is in seeing who is resourceful enough to stay alive without descending into savagery – and, of course, who heeds the call of the wild and begins chopping up their lunchroom buddies with abandon. There are few surprises, but plenty of satisfaction of the “I knew that guy was gonna crack!” variety.
The Belko Experiment‘s final destination is never in any doubt, and its big “reveal”, if it can be called that, is nothing we haven’t seen before (The Cabin in the Woods might be the most recent high profile example), but it doesn’t really matter. What we have here is an inventively gory, frequently funny thrill ride that’s just the thing to kick back with at the end of a long week in the rat race. Just don’t go getting any ideas.
After years of terrifying international audiences via the Wolf Creek films and TV series (along with similarly horrific detours like Rogue, The Darkness, and The Belko Experiment), Australian director, Greg McLean, takes a hard-left out of genre filmmaking with Jungle, but crafts something just as unsettling as his previous cinematic bloodbaths. While there are no serial killers or supernatural entities, this internationally-flavoured local production boasts a truly dangerous “villain” in the form of the eponymous wilds of Bolivia, a place of unrivaled savagery that McLean can’t help but apply his horror filmmaker’s instincts to. The results are chilling, harrowing, and occasionally near puke-inducing.
Based on the true life book by Yossi Ghinsberg, this gut-churning tale of survival is worthy of placement next to the highly impressive likes of Into The Wild, Deliverance, Wild, 127 Hours, and Alive. In a richly physical and immensely sympathetic performance, Daniel Radcliffe (whose continuing quest for challenging roles doesn’t receive nearly as much praise as it should) is superb as Ghinsberg, a young man travelling the world in the early 1980s, against the better wishes of his strict parents.
In the insular backpacking community of Bolivia, he meets two new friends in robust American, Kevin Gale (an excellent Alex Russell) and sensitive Swiss teacher, Marcus Stamm (a fine turn from rising Aussie star, Joel Jackson). Thirsty for adventure and new experiences, they take up the unlikely offer of enigmatic adventurer, Karl Ruprechter (played with an imaginative streak of the unpredictable by Thomas Kretschmann), to head into the jungle in search of a lost tribe of Indians, and perhaps a little gold along the way. But once in the wild, the three travelers soon start to question the credentials of their guide, and then realise how enormous and truly horrifying the jungle that surrounds them truly is.
Just as nervous urban-bound horror filmmakers have found treachery and evil in the backwater towns of America and the dark unknown of Europe (and, of course, the Australian outback), Greg McLean locates terror in the jungles of the Amazon. Yes, we’ve seen this winding, tangled river used as the backdrop for the gruesome likes of Cannibal Holocaust and The Green Inferno, but the nightmare of Jungle is much more real and far less sensationalist. Never have bug infestations, starvation, dehydration, pounding rain, wild river rapids, fire ants, and blistered feet registered with such force and fury – McLean grinds the gore here with admirable aplomb, giving Jungle the kind of kick that a non-genre filmmaker wouldn’t even have considered. But he’s in touch with his characters too, and as we endure the horrors of the jungle with them, the film soars in strange and unexpected ways. A survival film that marches to the delirious beat of its own hallucinogenic drum, Jungle bows inventively before the bad guy to end all bad guys: Mother Nature.