(Spoilers for The Belko Experiment follow)
The first time I saw the trailer for The Belko Experiment went something like this:
I was on YouTube and the pre-roll ad began. “Okay,” I thought. “Five more seconds and I’ll skip right by it.” Within that five seconds, Requiem started playing, giant shields were going up over windows and doors, and a voice came on saying “You have two hours to kill 30 of your co-workers. If you do not kill them in this time, we will kill 60 people of our choosing.” Needless to say, this caught my attention. “Well, I might as well see what the rest of it has to say.”
And I’m glad I did. The trailer promised the movie would be ‘Office Space meets Battle Royale,’ and they weren’t wrong.
It started out like any other movie. The ‘main’ character is on his way to work. When he gets there, he notices things are a little off, but goes around the office talking to his friends and co-workers like any other day.
But it didn’t take long to get into the action. Well, action is a loose term in this sense, as the ‘action’ in the traditional sense doesn’t really start until about half way through the film. Let me back up. For those of you who haven’t seen it or haven’t seen the trailer, this movie is about an office full of 80 people who are pitted against each other. They are locked inside their building, and forced to kill half of the staff in an allotted time, or …whoever is running the experiment… will kill 60 people instead.
But really for about the first 40 minutes of the movie, nothing happens. No killing. No ruthless murders. It’s mostly about the psychology and philosophy of it and thought processes that these individuals are working through.
There are basically two groups of people in The Belko Experiment. First, you have the majority, the people who think this is ridiculous and want to do everything they can to get out of the building. Some try hiding. Some try making signs and hanging them up on the side of the building. And some just run around screaming.
On the other hand, you have the small minority of people who are thinking… rationally. I put it in italics because depending on your philosophic utilitarian viewpoint, this is the rational thing to do. They actually entertain the idea of killing 30 people to save the other 30. The beginning of the movie does a fantastic job introducing characters, their motivations, and actually gets you into the heads of people on both sides.
Before I get into why I think this movie was fantastic from a conceptual standpoint, I just want to point out some things that it did really, really well.
First off, the music. The movie takes place in Colombia, and a lot of the music is in Spanish. But they’re not traditional Spanish songs. ‘I Will Survive’ and ‘California Dreamin” are two notable songs placed strategically throughout the movie. ‘I Will Survive’ worked especially well for the scene it was used in, and it added a mild comedic feel to the film. It really felt like every song that was chosen for the film had a purpose. They weren’t just thrown in as background noise.
Second, the acting. In most ‘indie’ ‘horror’ (I put horror in quotes because I don’t see this as a horror movie, but everyone I saw it with did) films, the acting is… let’s be honest, total shit. But not so with the Belko Experiment. The actors actually brought some excellent talent to the table.
Alright. That’s out of the way. Let’s get into the good stuff, shall we?
I mentioned utilitarianism earlier. I talked about this a bit in my driverless car blog a while back, but I’ll give you a quick review. Utilitarianism is a philosophic and ethical school of thought that posits that the best ethical decision is the one that maximizes utility. What is utility? Well, it’s whatever the decision at hand happens to be. Perhaps the best way to approach it is, of course, with the thing we hold most dear: human life.
Let’s say there’s a train going down a set of tracks. Its brakes are broken, and is hurdling towards a group of five people stuck on the track ahead. You’re standing next to the track in front of a lever. If you pull this lever, it will divert the train onto another track, but there is someone stuck there, as well. Do you kill the one person to spare the other five? What if there were two people stuck on the other track? Three? Four? Under a utilitarian viewpoint, you would logically (and ethically) kill the one person, two people, three people, or four people, because saving five people would maximize the utility of the situation.
As a student of philosophy, I know I’m grossly oversimplifying this situation. I understand there are many other viewpoints on utilitarianism, what utility is, and how to best achieve maximum utility. If you have an issue with my explanation of utilitarianism, bully for you.
Why am I giving you this very, very brief lesson in philosophy? Because this is what the entirety of The Belko Experiment is about. Do you kill 30 people to save another 30? Do you let your ‘god’ blindly choose who lives and who dies, or do you take control over the situation and pull the lever?
There’s always the minority in these situations – the group of people who are actually entertaining the idea of doing what their masters are telling them to do. I felt like this was a very important addition to the film. There’s a great YouTuber called LindyBeige who covers everything from ancient warfare to modern LARPing, and he does a video on shooting to kill. (I won’t go into great detail about it, but I highly suggest watching it here.)
In the video, he states that, without proper training and conditioning, only about 15% of soldiers in WWII actually shot at the enemy. That’s just in the general direction of the enemy. Of that 15%, only about 5% actually shot at the enemy. That’s shooting to kill. So only about 1/20 soldiers actually shot at the enemy with the intent to kill them.
This is very important in the terms of The Belko Experiment. When you look at the group of office workers with no prior military training, you see that the majority of them are scared. They’re not trained to kill, they have no real reason to kill (except for self preservation), and they really can’t kill. They don’t want to.
But 5% of the employees do. 5% of people have that… whatever it takes… to take a human life. The leader of this minority is an ex-special ops soldier. Four or five other civilians join him, one of them reluctantly, and they attempt to maximize the utility of the situation. How? They choose who they kill. Do you have children under 18? You’re safe. Are you over 60? Go against the wall. Sadly, that’s as far ahead as they thought and eventually had to resort to just picking people out of a crowd, but I really appreciated that they actually had (what they thought was) a sensible solution to the problem at hand.
This is the part of the film that really got to me and everyone I saw it with. Who are you? What would you do in this situation? Whose side are you on? Are you part of the 5% that can actually kill without being conditioned to, or are you part of the 95% that physically and mentally cannot take another human life?
I really hope I’m never put into a situation like that, especially a military one, but this made for some interesting dinner talk after the movie. Some said they’d just hide, which makes sense. I saw this with a group of friends, one of whom is getting his master’s degree in counseling. He said he’d just end it all then and there. It’s an interesting concept and a very thoughtful way to approach the questions that utilitarianism poses.
(SUPER spoilers for The Belko Experiment follow)
And then there was the ending. Oh God, that ending. I didn’t know what to expect, really. I mean, you know by the title that it’s an ‘experiment,’ but who the hell knows by whom or for what reason.
After taking down Barry, Mike comes out of the building and heads into the hangar off to the side. Once he sits down, he does what any of us would do – he starts asking questions. We eventually find out that the whole thing really was an experiment, but an unregulated one. An experiment that the psychological Ethics Committees have no jurisdiction over.
HOW COOL IS THAT?! So cool. Awesomely cool.
I really wish my psychologist buddy would’ve had more to say about this movie, because it seems like, to me at least, this was a fantastic representation of human nature and the study of the mind.
(Alright. No more spoilers.)
It’s not very often that a movie makes you think. Makes you feel so wrong about being human. Makes you ask questions that make you uncomfortable, sad, and a little bit afraid of yourself. The Belko Experiment did all of this and more.
Reed’s Review Corner:
The Belko Experiment
9.3 tape dispensers out of 10.
Makes you ask difficult questions.
A unique approach to a philosophic question.
Comedic aspects make it feel more real.
I don’t like feeling this way…