Thursday, 27 April 2017


Starring: John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, Adria Arjona
Writer: James Gunn
Director: Greg McLean

In a high-rise office block just outside Bogotá, Colombia, the employees of the Belko Corporation are about to have a very bad day indeed as an unknown voice suddenly announces over the PA system that they're about to participate in a game which boils down to a drastically simple choice: kill or be killed...

After a breezy introduction which sets up the main characters and the appropriate office politics rather nicely, The Belko Experiment gets down to its blood-soaked business long before it can be project managed out of existence (I can say this, I've been a Project Manager). People lose their heads - literally - when the first target isn't reached, the ante is upped, sides are taken.

At the centre of the mayhem is your average office schmo Mike Milch (Gallagher Jr.), a guy who just wants to get by and please as many people as he can even when there's worker genocide on the menu. His girlfriend Leandra (Arjona) isn't quite as accommodating when faced with the prospect of random, splattery, cranium-exploding death but she's positively tree-hugging compared to colleague Wendell Dukes (John C. McGinley turning the psycho dial up to 11) whose initial, barely concealed sociopathic tendencies give way to hacking people to bits with meat cleavers faster than you can say "That guy's got a meat cleaver".

Running a tight 89 minutes, The Belko Experiment doesn't dally too long with discussions about who has the right to live, who's on the list to die and who has the right to play God in this situation. As with almost all business discussions anywhere ever, any debate is generally curtailed before it gets anywhere, but this time it's by another announcement requesting that more people have to be bumped off. At its core this isn't a film which is going to let itself get bogged down in moralising, it's a stripped-down, gory thrill ride and it delivers some startling, wince-inducing violence at regular intervals (UK readers, there's a very good reason why it's rated 18). Some of this violence involves, yes, office supplies. I'll never look at a sellotape dispenser in quite the same way again.

This is all carried along by a rather impressive cast and, for the more cine literate out there, trades somewhat upon knowledge of the performers' previous roles. For instance, Michael Rooker. Got to be playing a murderous nutjob, right? Well....just watch the movie to find out. Elsewhere, Tony Goldwyn scores as a calm, calculating boss who may just be about to take all of his rational decision-making processes to the Nth degree, Sean Gunn is amusingly annoying as Grade-A stoner Marty and Melonie Diaz fits the "surely they can't kill her, can they?" role of new starter Dany perfectly.

It's not an unfamiliar set-up and the usual questions are there (for instance, will the office nice guy suddenly snap and start killing people?) but this takes an approach which is fresh enough to shake off most of the potential clichés. James Gunn's script - yes, that James Gunn, about to unleash the second Guardians of the Galaxy outing - is brutally efficient, dispensing some killer one-liners as the bodies pile up. The final moments, not to give anything away, are an absolute hoot and a rather fitting way to round things off.

It may not be the most subtle of movies out there right now but if you can hang on to your lunch The Belko Experiment is easily one of the most entertaining and for this horror fan it was something of an unexpected treat. Also, it's nice to see director Greg McLean right back on gloriously gory form after trying, but not quite succeeding, to generate scares from the disappointing possessed rock snorefest The Darkness.

Sunday, 2 April 2017


Starring: Cillian Murphy, Brie Larson, Sharlto Copley, Armie Hammer
Writers: Amy Jump, Ben Wheatley
Director: Ben Wheatley

In 1978 Boston, Justine (Larson) is brokering an arms deal which will see Vernon (Copley) and his associates selling a cache of machine guns to a group representing the IRA. Firstly Vern doesn't have the specific type of machine gun which Chris (Murphy) and his colleagues were expecting and then an unexpected conflict between one member of each party turns the situation from bad to much, much worse...

The antithesis of many a choreographed bullet ballet, Free Fire doesn't have people twisting acrobatically through the air, shooting enemies with deadly accuracy. It doesn't have a bunch of characters who shrug off gunshot wounds with a grimace and supernaturally limited physical impairment. No, shots go high and wide on a regular basis and those that do hit their mark cause serious pain for their targets.

As the shootout wears on the cast becomes ever more grimy and soaked in claret, some of them reduced to an agonising crawl as they attempt to reach their goal. Even at this point the protagonists are still cracking wise with each other and the barbed comments fly just as regularly as the slugs.

After the trippy, multi-layered delights of High-Rise some might view this latest from Ben Wheatley as being relatively straightforward and perhaps even a little lightweight. Nonsense. This is both bloody and hilarious, continually reloading with a ready supply of cracking dialogue executed with relish by a cast to die for.

It may be a trifle churlish to single out a performance for special mention as everyone in this is very, very good but for me Sharlto Copley steals the piece as the swaggering, spectacularly gauche Vernon who brings the chuckles and the cringes in equal measure. Sample behaviour from Vern: suggesting that Justine goes to retrieve something mid-firefight because "nobody will shoot the bird". He's amusingly awful throughout.

Let's be honest, there isn't a duff performance here. Hammer is excellent as the unruffled Ord, whether he's trying to reason with the increasingly excitable Vern or stopping to light up a joint in the midst of the chaos. Wheatley regular Michael Smiley is as thoroughly watchable as ever and Brie Larson makes sure that it isn't just left to the blokes to kick arse.

The run of excellent Ben Wheatley/Amy Jump movies continues with the smart, slick, Seventies-set shenanigans of Free Fire. It's brash, breezy (at just 91 minutes) and brilliant. Bravo!