Tag Archives: The Thing

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.

 

 

 

LIFE

“…Life is perhaps something of a homage to some of the truly great futuristic films of yesteryear.”

Wayward Wolf Film Review.

Watching this science-fiction horror got me thinking of the irony that amidst the infinite vastness of outer space, the actual ‘stage’ upon which the vast majority of apparently ‘realistic’ science fiction films are played out, is somewhat claustrophobically small and rather limited; a case in point being Daniel Espinosa’s, Life.

In order that the crew of an exploratory space mission might not suffocate to death, the action must either be contained within the sanctuary and metaphorical ‘four walls’ of their relatively minuscule space station, or should they venture out of these confines into outer space, they must again be contained, this time within life-preserving space suits, anchored firmly to the space station.

Containment is indeed the name of the game and thus the ability for Directors to demonstrate true originality considering the self-imposed man-made limitations of the known science-fiction world, can quite often be severely hampered. This results in scenarios and backdrops becoming all too frequently a little overly-familiar and maybe even reassuring to our eyes, no matter how many supposedly differing tales of missions blasting-off into the great unknown we are subjected to.

On the one hand, Life is a film that most definitely suffers an originality bypass, more than most, its subject matter revolving around content that’s quite clearly been begged, borrowed and stolen from any number of prior science fiction sources.

But on the other hand, it’s equally possible to accept the point of view that Life is perhaps something of a homage to some of the truly great futuristic films of yesteryear.

Alien, Aliens, The Thing, Gravity, Interstellar, they’re all, without question, key influences here in the Director’s thinking.

But is this necessarily a bad thing?

These films were all lauded for their particular plus points, be that the more gritty, industrial and organic feel – the actual rattling nuts and bolts of space travel – that was conjured up in Interstellar, the stunning cinematography and awe-inspiring heart and soul of Gravity, the use of visual tracking technology to create absolutely white-knuckle-esque suspense, in Aliens, or the sheer fear factor brought about through a combination of the unknown and ultimately the horror of knowing, in both Alien and The Thing.

To name but a few. The list could very easily go on.

In the case of Life, each of these elements are employed strategically and expertly – it has to be said – creating a thoroughly convincing yet very straight forward tale of the inevitable perils of poking about too much in space.

The crew of an international space station are part of a mission to intercept some sort of probe that has been collecting ‘samples’ from the surface of Mars. The crew are to then analyse these for any potential signs of life.

Hugh Derry (Ariyon Bakare), is the scientist in charge of analysing and nurturing the single-celled life form that they successfully unearth from Mars’ dust samples.

Its rapid growth and unconventional, unpredictable demeanour soon becomes not only the subject of much fascination, but also of considerable concern for the crew. They are mindful that as ground-breaking as their discovery undoubtedly is, there are bucket loads of unknowns attached to this particular venture, and the mutually agreed upon, over-riding protocol is that no matter how unique and precious this organism’s growth and development may be, if things get out of hand, it cannot be allowed to affect life on planet earth.

Needless to say, when playing with fire, people get burnt. And so it proves to be.

So long as you can sufficiently disassociate this film from all of its more obvious influences and treat it as the nail-bitingly tense thriller that it certainly is, Life will, without question, be a most enjoyable 100 minutes of your time.

The cast is excellent and the characterisation, I am pleased to announce, is surprisingly downplayed when compared with the more exaggerated characterisation of some of the film’s science fiction forerunnersFrom the brash swagger of Rory Adams (Ryan Reynolds), the sultry authority of team leader, Ekaterina Golovkina (Olga Dihovichnaya), to the quietly spoken David Jordan (Jake Gyllenhaal) – whose influence on matters steadily grows as the team’s collective crisis deepens and they flap about with increasing desperation in their attempts to bring a halt to the inextirpable extraterrestrial’s progress.

As for ‘Calvin’ the alien being; he / she / it is deceivingly angelic in appearance. A sort of translucent orchid-like jellyfish creature. Convincing both as some sort of mythical spiritual being and as the relentless predator that it turns out to be.

Perhaps not so convincing however is Jon Ekstrand’s full and rather overblown soundtrack which is effective only sporadically, yet over-bearing and seemingly omni-present. The film at times struggles to breathe under the sheer weight of this excessive sonic onslaught.

Nonetheless, this is but a minor gripe, and is insufficient to detract from the positive impression and sentiment that the film successfully conveys, overall.

Thoroughly engaging to the point where I failed to second guess a fairly predictable yet highly effective twist near the film’s conclusion, Life is a delectable piece of fantasy that tips – in the most brazen of fashion – the visor of its space suit’s helmet in the general direction of the very best of classic cinematic science fiction.