I imagine THE BELKO EXPERIMENT was the first screenplay James Gunn pulled out of his drawer and dusted off to make, spending his cache from GUARDIANS on, that Disney absolutely forbid him to direct. The end result is a fun, hard genre picture that is exactly what you’d expect it to be. It’s a return to pre Marvelized Gunn.
The film is brutally violent, more so on the realistic side than the over-the-top Tarantino induced cinematic folly. The casting is what makes this film work to the degree that it does. It’s a mixture of Gunn’s troops, typecast players, and a very fun cameo at the end that anyone who’s familiar with Gunn or De Palma’s work will instantly rejoice in seeing.
The entire ensemble plays hard to their typecast, with the exception of Michael Rooker who has been recently re-branded by Gunn as the likeable salt of the earth guy. Tony Goldwyn is the no bullshit asshole who plays on his good looks and affability, and it is fantastic seeing him back on the big screen. He’s great in this. John C. McGuinley plays his smarmy self in a throwback to his turn in PLATOON. Sean Gunn is the dope. John Gallagher, Jr is the everyman who grows a pair and rises to the extraordinary situation, and Brent Sexton is the guy who’s there to help until he isn’t.
The picture is a perplexing ride. While it’s a hard genre staple, you’ll find yourself thinking a little too much about it, casting shades of grey where there really isn’t any intent of. HIGH-RISE was a comparison that I found myself trying to make, but the film isn’t nearly as sophisticated, and that’s okay because it’s not trying to be.
The film’s excessive violence will certainly be cause for backlash, but while watching I kept thinking about the need for violence in entertainment. Whether it’s gladiators, boxing, MMA or fist fights in hockey; it’s an aspect of our culture that refuses to go anywhere because it is a primal urge that is so badly desired. Somebody somewhere has had to have made an “ultra-violence” quip somewhere talking about this film.
Bottom line is that THE BELKO EXPERIMENT is a film that uses violence in its most primitive form, but in a respectfully cinematic way that genuinely gets lost amongst the shoddy horror films that continuously show up on streaming platforms. This film is exactly what it sets out to be, and doesn’t try to be anything that it isn’t. It could have easily tried to be some LORD OF THE FLIES rehash, but it wasn’t and that is refreshing. The film opens with the ultra nostalgic Orion Pictures logo, and if that excites you, this movie was made for you.