One thing Berberian Sound Studio taught us was that horror films can produce that recognisable sound of a knife penetrating a body easily through the sound studio. All you need is a kitchen knife and some fruit or vegetables to create that squishy sound.
In The Belko Experiment directed by Greg McLean, those distinctive squishy sounds are this time gun-related with the occasional knife penetration, but this not an ode to Italian cinema of the ’70s. Instead The Belko Experiment finds itself in the divisive sub-genre of torture-porn, defended by some as a legitimate concept, a way of providing social commentary over war, torture and our treatment of others. This is not an argument this writer sees is that straightforward. It should be said this has come from the writer/director of Wolf Creek, so be warned.
Mclean lets us have it; The Belko Experiment is one gruff film, although some suggest it’s not a ‘full on’ torture-porn , but more so, a funny satire on the corporate world. The filmmakers even suggest that it’s “a combination of Battle Royale and Office Space” and you get that feel. CEO, Barry (Tony Goldwyn), who looks like scientology honcho, David Miscavige, is the bad guy amongst a whole heap of others characters from TV series like Dexter, Scrubs, Silicon Valley and The Walking Dead. The first part provides a typical office scenario with flirting and work emails, and then the real truth comes out; this is a isolated work space made for guinea pigs who are the unwitting participants in a deadly experiment.
The working-for-the-man nihilistic attitude is the clear subtext to the story, which is reinforced through the interiors, plot points and character setups. But it is all too nasty. It needs redemption. Even Quentin Tarantino and Gaspar Noé provide a rationale for their violence. If not redemption, it could be at least nuanced to give the viewer something to think about. Not having this option in The Belko Experiment makes it hard to care or see a point to the many blood splatters. The blood, by the way, looked a lot like raspberry coulis.
Its stick-it-to-the-man attitude comes off bratty, which is all to apparent in the storyline, making the Miscavige character like a Disney villain, perhaps showing the filmmakers’ disdain for ‘suits’. Sure we can look at this as a critique or satire of the many elements of our modern life, but it is done in a way that is all too obvious. It is not challenging or unique.
Surprisingly, the music is great and chosen well. You get to hear a latin version of “Calfornia Dreamin'” and a spanish version of “I Will Survive”, which are something a little different for the torture-porn genre, and did add some much needed fun.
Still, this is too bleak. The Belko Experiment misses out on pushing the right buttons or providing the thought-provoking commentary it wishes to do. And we could also do without the constant sound of squishy cabbages.
The Belko Experiment is in selected Village cinemas from 12th October through Rialto Distribution.