Early in 2017 Blumhouse Productions released The Belko Experiment, an action-horror hybrid that attempted to satirize the American corporate workplace as a kill-or-be-killed environment. Sadly, while not a terrible film, The Belko Experiment was a mixed bag, missing more often than hitting its dark satirical tone. Directed by Joe Lynch, Mayhem (2017) did not enjoy the same extent of theatrical release of The Belko Experiment, which is unfortunate as it offers audiences a far more fun skewering of corporate America.
With a tongue-in-cheek voice-over narration and bloody opening montage, we are in short order introduced to ID-7, or the ‘Red Eye’ virus, which reduces moral inhibitions and prompts infected individuals to act on their worst impulses. The film’s protagonist, Derek, works for Towers and Smythe Consulting, the law firm that successfully defended the first case of murder committed by an individual while infected by ID-7. Played by Steven Yeun (Glenn from The Walking Dead), Derek explains how he traded in idealism for corporate cynicism fuelling a rapid career ascension. His climb up the corporate ladder though is cut abruptly short by a backstabbing co-worker but before Derek can be escorted off the premises the building is put on lockdown when an outbreak of ID-7 is discovered. Trapped in an office building with infected, angry white-collar co-workers and eight hours before the virus is counteracted, Derek realizes he can’t be held accountable for anything he does – after all, Towers and Smythe was the firm that litigated the ID-7 loophole. Derek and Melanie (Samara Weaving from The Babysitter), a disgruntled customer of Towers and Smythe, decide to fight and kill their way from the office tower’s basement to the top-floor to take revenge on the firm’s CEO’s.
There is absolutely nothing subtle about Mayhem. The violence – and there’s plenty of it – is over-the-top with heavy doses of spurting blood. Fans of gross-out horror comedies will have plenty to enjoy. And when the carnage does take momentary breaks, the dialogue and dark humour are sharp and on point for the most part. Like many dark comedies, some of the irreverent humour misses its mark but the script largely nails it, including a few good riffs at the expense of The Dave Matthews Band. If the violence isn’t subtle, the film’s social commentary is even less understated, with its narrative of corporate drones having to kill their way from the basement to the top floor giving the audience a pretty transparent skewering of American capitalism and greed. While it’s not subtle it’s certainly effective and the timing of Mayhem could not be better. Both lead performances from Yeun and Weaving are excellent. Yeun proves he can headline a film and for the second time in a year Weaving is a standout in another fun horror outing. Mayhem drags a little as it marches to its final act and some the editing is a bit frenetic, but at just under 90 minutes, the film never overstays it’s welcome.
Mayhem isn’t for everyone – the violence may be a deterrent for some audiences. For horror fans that appreciate some dark humour and don’t mind the violence ratcheted up a notch or two, Mayhem stands out as one of the better horror releases of 2017. And it stands out as one of the betters send-ups of corporate culture since British horror-comedy Severance (2006).