The Belko Experiment

| June 30, 2017

While the world waited for James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017) to drop, another Gunn project low-key hit theaters in March of this year. Stepping away from Marvel for a hot minute, Gunn penned and produced a small, bloody, action, survival horror film in The Belko Experiment with Greg McLean (Wolf Creek (2005)) in the director’s chair. Set in an office building where the employees are forced to kill or be killed by an unseen, outside force, The Belko Experiment promises audiences a combination of “Office Space meets Battle Royale,” at least according to the pull quote from We Got This Covered used in the film’s advertising.

That combination of concepts highlights exactly the kind of weird stuff that drew me to Gunn’s work as a teenager in the first place, having been obsessed with his sick take on Shakespeare in Tromeo and Juliet (1996) and later his comedic approach to superheroes in The Specials (2000). So I was sold immediately. Unfortunately, the pull quote chosen to promote The Belko Experiment does the film a great disservice by promising something clearly neither Gunn nor McLean had any interest in pursuing. “Office Space meets Battle Royale” evokes images of office workers killing each other with fax machines and staplers, drowning each other in printer toner or getting stabbed in the eyes with Troll dolls.

There’s virtually none of that sort of cartoonishness though. The film’s office building setting does not motivate or define the kills in any meaningful way, but instead it defines the characters, painting them as the sort of everyday folk one might meet in an office. That way, when they’re forced to kill each other, the characters’ decisions are ones we can potentially see ourselves making. It allows us to empathize with them to a far greater degree than we would if they were, say, disemboweling each other with claws made out of paper clips like cartoon blood bags.

Gunn and McLean could have done that, of course. In fact, Gunn could have done anything he liked! Gunn himself admits in interview that making a smash hit like Guardians of the Galaxy effectively gave him the freedom to do whatever he wanted, and I believe that he did precisely that here. Belko’s emphasis on character drama over concept kills demonstrates to me just how much of a passion project Belko was for him—just how deeply he cared for his characters and how much he wanted us to care too.

Each character becomes the hero of his/her own portion of the narrative. Their approaches to this extreme situation are varied, human, and often quite natural, if sometimes comedic in their ineffectiveness. There are those characters we side with and those with whom we disagree vehemently. Still, we can understand where those clearly in the “wrong” are coming from and why they would make such horribly immoral choices. Only through that understanding of human nature could the film instill real horror in the audience.

It’s the emphasis on realism and the restraint of The Belko Experiment that surprised me the most coming from a script by Gunn, who’s not really known for restraint in his horror films. But in order to appreciate the film for what it is and not what it could have been, you really need to ignore that pull quote, which of course appears on the film’s home video release as well. The Belko Experiment is far less about inventive kills and gory, office equipment-related executions than it is about the horror of being a human test subject in a heartless sociological experiment.

The Belko Experiment is now available on Blu-ray and DVD from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Special features on the release include:

-the 10-minute featurette “Rules of the Game: The Secrets Behind The Belko Experiment,” including interviews with the cast and crew, including Gunn himself, giving us a pretty clear idea of just how hands-on he was with the project;

-Lee Hardcastle’s super gory Claymation promos for Belko;

-deleted scenes;

-a behind-the-scenes photo gallery;

-and the theatrical trailer.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).

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