Tag Archives: The Blair Witch Project

THE BELKO EXPERIMENT

“I still remember when ‘horror’ films were not so much the ironic, tongue-in-cheek, ‘knowing’ tips of the hat to the genre that they’ve become…”

Wayward Wolf.

The Belko Experiment has been described as “Office Space meets Battle Royale“, which on balance is probably about right. Absurdly comical, yet horrific and unnerving at times.

In truth, I’m a little torn on this one. I still remember when ‘horror’ films were not so much the ironic, tongue-in-cheek, ‘knowing’ tips of the hat to the genre that they’ve become, but genuinely disturbing experiences in their own right, in which the director would set out to frighten the living beJeezus out of those that might dare to watch them, with scant chance of any light relief along the way.

Of course, as with any genre, only a small percentage of attempts ever truly succeeded in achieving this – think Halloween, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Thing, The Blair Witch Project and so on – but they were all created with one sole purpose in mind, to be properly frightening, for frightening’s sake.

Greg McLean – no stranger to ‘straight’ horror – best known as he is for a piece of horror very much cut from that particular cloth, Wolf Creek – is the director responsible for The Belko Experiment, which is essentially a darkly humorous, ironic horror, centered around the rather awkward theme of kill or be killed.

It would be unfair however to suggest that The Belko Experiment doesn’t contain genuinely unsettling moments that are designed to strike fear into your very core. It very definitely does. There is perhaps after all no better vehicle for unnerving an audience than converting something that would be considered a perfectly safe, albeit dull haven – such as people’s banal, every day working environments – into the scene of untold terror. Better still, why not make it a setting from which there really is genuinely no escape, no matter how hard you try.

The events take place in a lone-standing, non-descript concrete office block on the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia – the home of Belko Industries – in which an English speaking staff from a whole variety of backgrounds assemble for work as they would on any other day. With their morning coffees barely touched, they are suddenly informed via an unrecognised voice over the building’s intercom, that they cannot now leave the premises. The thought of being marooned at work would be bad enough for some, but when that’s followed up with an insistence that the staff must murder two of their number within half an hour “or there will be repercussions,” then you’ve got all the ingredients right there for a properly bad day at the office.

And so, to the jarring sound of impenetrable external shutters slamming shut over each and every window and feasible means of escape, the Belko experiment begins…

With more than a whiff of a Big Brother surveillance society pervading, it becomes increasingly clear to one and all entombed within the building that there is no escaping this growing, potentially gruesome crisis, and it’s not long before critical divisions begin to appear among the employees, and fractious behaviour abounds.

There are those insistent upon calm and reason, whilst there is a splinter group believing that in light of rapidly unfolding events, the only route forward is to consider the good of the many, and to make some extremely tough decisions. These are decisions that are not going to bode well for some. One thing is very clear though; ultimately everyone is bound to play by the same rules; the rules being set by this mysterious, elusive voice, and there appears to be not a damned thing that anyone can do about it.

It is this sense of desperation and helplessness that is the chief triumph of The Belko Experiment and Maclean conveys this effectively throughout the piece. It is particularly interesting to watch the gradual decay of inter-employee relations, as petty work rivalries soon escalate out of all control. An increasing sense of despair envelops and disables many, yet it drives others to decisive, brutal action.

Even forgiving the film’s rather clumsy, somewhat unnecessary conclusion, and the unavoidably tension-sapping effect of employing an overly familiar cast – something of a who’s who of minor roles in American film and TV – there is, however, no doubting that The Belko Experiment is a highly effective horror whose approach lies somewhere between old school frightener and post-Scream era dark humour.

My only minor ambivalence to The Belko Experiment stems from a personal preference of what a horror by definition should be, and thus probably shouldn’t be considered to be any sort of noteworthy criticism, as such.

Take it for what it is.

There’s nothing particularly innovative here if truth be told, and it’s far from an original concept in the first place, but what it does have to offer is handled well. It’s refreshingly punchy with good momentum and mercifully doesn’t dwell heavily upon any distracting personal back stories that would offer little or nothing to the film as a whole.

The Belko Experiment is a well executed (excuse the pun if you’d be so kind) modern horror that should inject a suitably unsettling 90 minutes into your day.

 

 

 

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T2 TRAINSPOTTING: “Begbie…the very last man on earth you’d ever want to share a pint with.”

What do the following three films all have in common?

A Nightmare on Elm StreetGrease and The Blair Witch Project

 

Suffice it to say that they were all highly original, hugely iconic films that spawned utterly abysmal sequels. Indeed, the number of great movies that have had their good reputation tarnished by massively inferior follow-ups is, to coin a phrase, absolutely off-the-chart.

By all accounts Danny Boyle wrestled with this very dilemma when daring to re-kindle the flames of his hugely influential 1996 outing, Trainspotting. Allegedly he and the original cast members having agreed to revisit their original roles, were all feeling the full weight of pressure and expectation upon their now, far more experienced shoulders.

The very good news though is that Danny Boyle’s 2017 sequel, T2 Trainspotting, has not only not tarnished the original’s reputation, but surpassed any expectations that we could reasonably have had for it.

It’s twenty years on, and Mark Renton’s unceremonious flit – £16,000 to the good – has been largely forgotten and confined to history by his former comrades, Spud, Sick Boy and Begbie. Everyone’s moved on in their lives, and they laugh heartily about it all now.

Of course, pretty much all of the above is nonsense.

Renton (Ewan McGregor), sheepishly returns to Edinburgh in a bid to reacquaint himself and square things off with his old sparring buddies of yesteryear. Plenty of time has passed, but not much seems to have really changed. Spud (Ewen Bremner) – the only member of the gang, bar Renton, that had seen any of the loot, and had subsequently used his quarter share the only way he knew how, cementing his stature as a hardcore heroin addict – is still fighting his addiction demons. Simon, a.k.a Sick Boy (Johnny Lee Miller) – with a sassy young Eastern European girlfriend in tow, Veronika (Anjela Nedyalkova) – is still a ‘wrongun’ and one of life’s hustlers, albeit on a slightly more adventurous, not to mention controversial stage these days.

And Begbie (Robert Carlyle)? Well, Begbie is still Begbie; holed-up where he belongs and can do the least amount of damage to society, behind bars.

It’s fair to say that Renton’s return ruffles a feather or two as he attempts to reintegrate himself back into the lives of those that he had so unceremoniously left behind all those years back. It’s a return that has evoked an under current of ill-feeling, stirring up thoughts of retribution. With tensions running high, and the spectre of Begbie’s reappearance impossible to rule out even with him apparently safely locked away at Her Majesty’s pleasure, you could, and indeed should expect fireworks from T2, and lots of them.

T2 Trainspotting is a slick piece for sure, and successfully manages to retain all of the punch and swagger of the original, creating some new, highly memorable set-pieces of its own in the process. In addition, the danger of over-playing the chief characteristics of each of its cast members has thankfully been averted; a relief given the propensity for sequels to succumb to the need to create over-blown pastiches of ‘favourite’ characters. That said,  Begbie’s larger-than-life persona does sail a little too close to the wind for comfort at times.

Renton may now be deemed a rather divisive character, yet he still somehow manages to be a galvanising presence. Sick Boy remains largely self-centered, whilst Spud cuts a slightly tragic, highly vulnerable figure; the sort that tends to always encourage ground swells of overwhelming good will and support from concerned acquaintances.

Begbie on the other hand remains psychotic and unhinged, all these years on. A most deranged of lunatics and the very last man on earth you’d ever want to share a pint with.

Danny Boyle’s gamble with potentially destroying the rose-tinted legacy of this most cultish of classics has clearly paid off. A long awaited follow-up which should hopefully keep an army of fans satisfied for the next twenty years or so. Beyond that, who knows.

Whether T2 Trainspotting is quite as relevant to, or will have anywhere near the same impact upon a new generation, however – the way that Trainspotting did back in the day – I’m ill-equipped to say, being as I am a part of that previous generation.

Granted, it’s a film sprinkled with in-jokes and subtle references to its predecessor that may be a little lost on those that are not ‘in the know’, but there have certainly been concerted efforts made to bring Trainspotting’s original outlook and ideology into the present day and to a new market. Most notably is a superbly modified take on Renton and Sick Boy’s original ‘Choose Life’ monologue, although its recipient on this occasion, Veronika, seems more bewildered than beguiled by Renton’s passionate reprisal of this most caustic and sarcastic of diatribes.

Gritty, ‘sweary’, and littered with genuinely funny moments throughout, T2 Trainspotting is an excellent blend of high-entertainment, nostalgia, and pertinent modern day social comment. Perhaps not quite up to the standards of the 1996 original, but don’t get too hung up about comparisons. T2 Trainspotting stands more than ably on its own two feet.