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.
Well it’s arrived, folks. The first truly effective horror film of the year (that I’ve had a chance to see anyway). I was drowsily browsing Netflix and came upon Hush, sporting a snazzy poster and a premise ripped straight from the vintage horror flicks I grew up with. Compelled to give it a shot, I was rewarded with a slick, atmospheric and sturdily made exercise in suspense. It’s not often I feel true giddy tension while watching a thriller (even though most brashly guarantee it on the dvd cover), but this baby delivers in spades. It’s funny because the storyline is a identical to many movies of the past, and similar to countless more. The secret to success, obviously, is in the execution, and Hush is made with a caring love for a genre deeply ingrained in cinematic culture. Director. Mike Flanagan clearly loves horror films, and seems to want to rise above the primordial crust, calcifying his effort with a steady hand and fresh direction that gives even the most knowing plot turns a dose of torque using simple tools: a killer soundtrack, whiplash inducing editing and…and.. What’s the most important thing in any horror film? I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it: atmosphere. The setting finds us in a dusky, desolate area, where a deaf novelist (Katy Siegel) toils in isolation, churning out the trimmings of her next book on a laptop, content in her loneliness yet on the verge of unease stirred by cabin fever, restlessness or so,etching else. It’s not long before the film lands the first punch of many: a masked, crossbow wielding serial killer (John Gallagher spits on his previous good guy image, both terrifying, unrecognizable and superb) begins to stalk her with methodical menace, watching from the inky shadows of her home’s exterior while she cowers in terror. He catches on quick about her deafness and uses it against her, terrorizing her at every turn. Now, the film does use genre tropes to churn out its story, and anyone expecting something truly unique to pop out of the ether. Any be disappointed. But to those who yearn for solid, extremely well made horror entries to wade out of the muck and foretell the return to form of a genre that gets maybe two, three winners every year, can rejoice. This one comes up aces. Siegel is instantly likeable and gorgeous to boot, giving her protagonist a resilience that is actually believable, which can’t be said about every girl being pursued by a killer on screen. Gallagher is icky as the psycho, branded with certain idiosyncratic symbols of society which suggest that he’s a jaded outcast driven to sickening extremes by the hand he’s been dealt, given in to his dark impulses completely. For genre fans: this begs a watch and will likely be a highlight of the year. For casual viewers: fun, fun times and a vibe to get sucked in by. For non horror fans: just watch it anyway.