Tag Archives: Battle Royale

The Belko Experiment (2017)

I had heard a lot about this mysterious, low-cost movie (US$5 million budget) called The Belko Experiment last year, primarily because of the big name attached: James Gunn, director of the smash hit Guardians of the Galaxy movies. It wasn’t until I saw the movie that I realised it actually wasn’t directed by Gunn (who wrote the script), but by Aussie Greg McLean, best known for Wolf Creek. Nevermind.

I didn’t really know what to expect from it, given that its premise is not exactly one we haven’t seen before — a group of people forced into a game of kill or be killed. After Battle Royale and more recently The Hunger Games, another film with the same idea feels somewhat risky, though to Gunn and McLean’s credit, The Belko Experiment manages to distinguish itself through the confined office setting and a distinct horror slant.

The characters in the film all work for a branch of a massive but vague nonprofit company called Belko Industries on Colombia. On this day, after all the local hire are sent home, the company building is suddenly locked down, after which a voice through the loudspeaker begins to dictate the rules of a deadly game. At first, of course, most don’t take it seriously, but soon they realise — through a method requires a little bit of suspension of disbelief — that they better start killing or they will die gruesome deaths.

The Belko Experiment is not as memorable as Battle Royale or as epic as The Hunger Games. That said, it’s a nice little movie that’s both scary and fun. Credit goes to James Gunn for keeping the script swift and tight. At just 88 minutes, the film has a great pace and effectively introduces a whole bunch of characters on the run without excessive exposition. It doesn’t take too long before the ball gets rolling and by then you already have a good sense of the key characters and their relationships and dynamics. At no time was I confused about who was who and what their agenda was.

The cast is another strong point. Led by protagonist John Gallagher Jr (I know him best from The NewsroomHush, and 10 Cloverfield Lane), the ensemble features plenty of recognisable faces delivering powerful performances, in particular Tony Goldwyn (Scandal) as the boss in charge, John C McGinley (Scrubs) as a creep, Adria Arjona (Person of Interest), Owain Yeoman (The Mentalist) as a torn family man, Michael Rooker (Yondu in Guardians of the Galaxy) as a repairman, and James Gunn’s younger brother Sean Gunn (Kraglin in Guardians of the Galaxy) as a stoned cafeteria worker. There are a lot of characters in the movie, and quality performances help the important ones stand out and rough up the edges of what would have otherwise been stereotypes. For me, Goldwyn — with his mix of charm and intimidation — was the clear highlight.

McLean’s directorial style meshes well with Gunn’s script. For those who have seen Wolf Creek, you’ll know McLean has a knack for the visceral, the violent, and the primal. You get all of that in The Belko Experiment, along with well-crafted tension and dashes of timely black humour. The tonal shifts are not perfect, but the film mostly does a good job of balancing the horror and the humour.

Unfortunately, The Belko Experiment is still somewhat a missed opportunity. For all the intrigue, tension and crafty violence it pulls off in the first two-thirds, the final act resorts to cliches we’ve seen all too often. I don’t know how else it could have played out, though I know I would have welcomed a bolder route that offered more surprises, not just shocks from the extent of the violence. I also felt they could have set up more enticing showdowns between characters by creating additional sources of conflict earlier on.

On the whole, however, The Belko Experiment still turned out to be better than expected. It’s not a memorable entry in the genre or a concept that makes us think deeper, but it’s certainly a sharp, well-made horror-thriller that scares and entertains without taking itself too seriously.

3.25 stars out of 5

Classic Movie Review: Battle Royale (2000)

I understand I have it backwards. I watched The Hunger Games, which I thoroughly enjoyed, then decided to check out its Japanese predecessor, which many say Suzanne Collins’ novel takes from quite liberally.

I must admit, for the longest time I thought Battle Royale, the movie, was based on the manga (of which I had read chunks) as opposed to the novel written by Koushun Takami. In fact, I didn’t really even know the novel existed.

Nonetheless, the premise is strikingly similar to that of The Hunger Games. Set in a fictional Japan where the structure of society has more or less broken down, a class of junior high school students find themselves in a contest called Battle Royale, created under the BR Act, which forces the 42 students to kill each other until only one remains. Each contestant is fitted with an electronic tracking collar, and anyone who resists the contest or walks into a randomly designated “death zone” (added as the game progresses) will have their collar detonated. Students are each given a bag of necessities and a weapon. Sounds familiar?

I don’t intend to get into a debate about whether Collins (who claims she never heard of the book until her publisher told her) copied Battle Royale, but I will say that both film versions stand up rather well independently of the other.

Battle Royale’s strength is in its relentless brutality, which starts right from the beginning and doesn’t ease until the very end, making The Hunger Games somewhat mild by comparison. Unlike the American film, which takes a long time to set up the contest, Battle Royale gets into it very quickly and efficiently.

The most amazing thing about the 114-minute film (there is also a 122-minute extended version) was how tight the script was. The story may have focused on handful of the 42 students but almost every single one had their own personality and served a different purpose. In fact, I found it incredibly easy to identify each of the characters despite the film jumping a fair bit, and this was notwithstanding that all the names were in Japanese!

Compared to The Hunger Games, Battle Royale had a much wider range of identifiable characters, which is quite a remarkable achievement considering the latter’s contestants are all from a single class, whereas the former’s are from various districts scattered across the nation.

Battle Royale’s lead protagonist would have to be Shuya Nanahara, who is played by Tatsuya Fujiwara (as soon as I saw him I was like, “Isn’t that Light from Death Note?”). The standout characters would have to be the sexually provocative Mitsuko and the psychotic Kazuo, both of whom are the main antagonists of the film.

Despite the similar ideas, I found Battle Royale to be a very different experience to The Hunger Games. The Japanese film was relentless its carnage all the way through, even though some of the violence appeared somewhat (and perhaps intentionally) fake, whereas the American film was more measured in its depiction of visceral violence and had a brooding kind of tension. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the different cultures, but the Japanese film also had some totally WTF moments (that bordered on horror or comedy or both) that underscored its “surreal” feel.

I guess that’s the way I would describe Battle Royale – terrifying in a “surreal” kind of way. While The Hunger Games was arguably more “realistic” from a technical perspective and in feel, I found the films to be equally satisfying but vastly different experiences. I’d definitely recommend the other film for those who have seen one of the two.

As for a rating, I suppose it would only be fair if I gave Battle Royale the same, though if I had watched it first, I think I might have given it a higher score.

 4.25 stars out of 5!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DfoNiIXTOgA