Here is Fright Club historian Darrell Buxton’s introduction to The Belko Experiment, that screened at QUAD, Derby on Friday 7th July.
Hello and welcome to part two of tonight’s fantastic Fright Club double bill. We hope you liked IT COMES AT NIGHT and are glad that you’ve stuck around for part two of our show THE BELKO EXPERIMENT.
Have you ever worked 9-to-5 in an office? Trudging in to work every morning in your shirt and tie, or your businesslike outfit from the ‘office wear’ racks of your favoured high street chain? If so, you’ve probably met some nice colleagues and made a few good friends. But you’ve also more than likely encountered people that you could quite easily kill! Loudmouths sitting a few desks away, know-it-alls, over-eager types volunteering for overtime or sucking up to management. Or what about those bosses? Careerists, liars, underqualified self-promoters out of their depth, Nazis whose decisions and mistakes somehow make your life hell, not theirs.
But if push came to shove, could you seriously do them any harm? Dreaming about it is one thing, but actually going through with your murderous fantasies crosses a line from which there is no return.
Now what if you were forced into murder in these confined workplace circumstances? That’s the central pillar on which THE BELKO EXPERIMENT is constructed. There’s been a new breed of horror movie in the past five or six years, eschewing the supernatural and even bypassing the psychotic, instead taking a look at mass control programmes – perhaps in the age of austerity and in Trumpworld, horror cinema has found itself having to respond accordingly. There have been the likes of the PURGE series, for example, which in my opinion have become increasingly impressive with each fresh instalment.
GET OUT took THE STEPFORD WIVES as its template, added racial issues, and cleaned up at the box office. One of last year’s very best films was THE STANFORD PRISON EXPERIMENT, a dramatisation of a real-life student volunteer programme from 1971 where the guinea pigs were divided into ‘guard’ and ‘prisoner’ groupings to test their psychological mettle. And don’t forget that one of the films we screened at QUAD in the early days of Fright Club was EXAM, a 2009 British picture pitting eight job candidates against one another in a single room in a story of psychological torment that even Sir Alan Sugar might have been proud to have thought up.
THE BELKO EXPERIMENT kind of ramps up EXAM, with a larger office filled with dozens of staff, turning up for a day’s graft one morning and expecting nothing more problematic than the photocopier breaking down or the coffee machine refusing to give change. But there are indications, even as they check in at the gate with security, that this isn’t going to be a regular shift. What happens from there on, I will not reveal or spoil, but you’ll find the developing train of events to be disturbing and unpredictable.
BELKO was helmed by Australian director Greg McLean, who has become one of the leading lights in 21st century screen horror. I was lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time in the raucous company of actor John Jarratt a few weeks ago – John played Mick Taylor in the two WOLF CREEK movies written and directed by McLean, among the finest of the so-called ‘torture porn’ subgenre. Greg has proved himself capable of handling horror in varied forms, however – his entry in the ‘killer crocodile’ stakes, ROGUE, was an above average production of its type, and he took a step into the realm of the supernatural last year with the Blumhouse movie THE DARKNESS, in which Kevin Bacon and family visit the Grand Canyon but discover they have brought a strange and deadly force home with them.
BELKO is a further step into a different style of fright, and succeeds largely because it is at once extremely familiar and yet utterly off-kilter. The achievement here, of staging such a twisted tale in a very recognisable environment, is masterly, and throughout the proceedings you will find yourselves manipulated into pondering “well, what would I do in a situation like this?”.
What’s more, you might not like the answers you conjure up.
Fans of Brian De Palma movies – and I trust that includes all of us – should get a kick out of seeing the name of Gregg Henry pop up in the opening credits. Gregg’s played a fair few memorable creeps and other notable incidental figures in De Palma classics like BODY DOUBLE, FEMME FATALE, RAISING CAIN, SCARFACE and THE BLACK DAHLIA, and again I won’t say too much about his participation here but if you’re aware of Gregg and love his contributions to stuff like this, you won’t go home disappointed.
Ok, as someone once remarked in a different context in a different movie – “let’s go to work”…