‘Belko’ leaves social issues behind for kills, spectacle

by TYLER YORK//Online Editor

The-Belko-Experiment-Character-poster-2

The best part about working a thankless, corporate office job is going home at the end of the day.

That freedom vanishes in an instant when the employees of “The Belko Experiment” find themselves locked in their building. A mysterious announcer pits them against one another in a violent game, and the result leaves the audience wanting.

In one of the most brutal films I’ve ever seen, “Belko” paints an interesting portrait of yielding to authority. But it’s covered in a liberal coat of gore that will turn an enormous number of people off from its underlying message, myself included.

In the desolate inner city of Bogotá, Colombia, a group of office workers inhabit a building that looks like a sterile monument to the corporate world. It thrusts itself past the barren, crumbling surroundings and safely into the skyline above. The coworkers leave their bubble of security when massive metal plates cover every escape route. A voice on the intercom then informs them they are now participants in a social experiment.

The rest of the film plays through the employees’ social breakdown, their fight for morality, and the violent rampage that follows.

There are two real-world experiments that mirror the themes present in “Belko,” and it’s clear the film’s creators studied them well.

The first is the one known as the Milgram Experiment, a series of tests conducted by Stanley Milgram at Yale University in 1961. This experiment involved a researcher instructing a “teacher” participant to give a memory test to a third “learner” in another room (actually an actor in on the study). With every wrong answer, the “teacher” would administer electric shocks to the “learner.” These increased in voltage, until the “learner” fell silent and unresponsive.

The results showed that most people will go to great lengths to continue complying with authority, when doing so seems to be harmful, or even fatal, to others.

The second is the Stanford Prison Experiment, infamously led by Philip Zimbardo in 1971. This was a test performed on college students placed into randomly-assigned roles of authority. During the course of a week, the students assigned to be guards became increasingly abusive and aggressive. The students acting as prisoners became more distressed and submissive to acts of psychological torture carried out by the guards.

Both of these experiments involve troubling questions about blindly following authority. “Belko” seems to want to feature that as its main theme.

In reality, the movie’s spots of intelligence and thought-provoking symbolism are unfortunately overshadowed by its celebration of primal savagery.

The grim situation at the start of the film only becomes increasingly darker and more ruthless. There is a brief moment of bittersweet catharsis, followed almost immediately by more hopelessness through the conclusion. The horror of the acts these former friends carry out on each other gives the viewer very little payoff beyond being a witness to a corporate bloodbath.

For those who are considering watching “Belko” to see a thoughtful social commentary, the time is better spent with a documentary. For those wanting a fiesta of blood, guts, and white collar cruelty, many Quentin Tarantino films do it better. For those who are standing in front of the box office because the film they wanted to see is sold out, this movie will fill a spare hour and a half.

I give “The Belko Experiment” 3 out of 5 stars.

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