Putting ordinary people into ‘locked room’ situations and forcing them to commit heinous acts in order to survive has been one of the most prodigious subgenres of horror cinema in the last 20 years. Cube, Saw, Devil and Exam have more in common than just their one-word titles, with their confined locations, (un)ethical dilemmas and lose-lose solutions.
Battle Royale and The Hunger Games have started another deceptively similar but separate trend towards narratives plunging larger groups of people into the great outdoors and forcing them to kill each other until only one of them survives.
But which is better? There's only one way to find out…by combining both of these storytelling devices into one ultra-violent, white-collar bloodbath and throwing plenty of pitch-black comedy into the mix so it doesn't all get too depressing.
The Belko Experiment takes place in a office block in Bogota, Colombia, where a mysterious voice suddenly crackles over the tannoy one morning to tell employees that two of them must die very soon, or there will be severe consequences for everyone in the building. Metal shutters drop over the windows, communications are shut off and panic soon sets in.
The office is jam-packed with a crop of quality, but generally supporting role TV actors, including James McGinley (Dr Cox from Scrubs) and Tony Goldwyn (the President from Scandal). If you can resist the urge to stop yourself from trying to work out where you’ve seen all these suspiciously familiar faces, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the high quality of acting - much better than most high-concept horror films are able to muster up.
To its detriment, the Belko Experiment doesn't quite capitalise on the office setting in its use of weaponry or in the relationships it creates between the co-workers forced to butcher each other for the greater good. The film too quickly resorts to that all-purpose American cinematic problem-solver - the gun - while the chance to explore the darkly comic difficulty of colleagues murdering fellow employees with stationery goes relatively unexplored.
The unfortunate nine-to-fivers are occasionally a little too broad, too. Working with such a wide group of characters, not everyone can be a complex individual, so familiar stereotypes are resorted to.
These are minor gripes, though, when the action is directed with such flair by Greg McLean and the bloody effluvia is thrown about with such wild abandon. The film occasionally reaches peaks of frenzied hysteria and keeps the pace up until its inevitably brutal conclusion. The Belko Experiment doesn't confirm which subgenre is better, but the filmmakers can always gather another bunch of patsies together for another experiment.
They just need to use more staplers next time.