Adria Arjona and Tony Goldwyn star in "The Belko Experiment."


A graphically violent futuristic thriller, “The Belko Experiment” will appeal to audiences who appreciate “The Purge” franchise.

Written by James Gunn (who also wrote the gentler but just as clever “Guardians of the Galaxy,”) the film is a study of the dark side of human behavior.

Tony Goldwyn (“Scandal”) is Barry, the COO of Belko Industries, an isolated workplace in a nondescript high-rise office building that could be in any city but is located in Bogota. All around him are dozens of professional looking, although not always professional-acting, subordinates, staring at screens and occasionally shuffling papers.

John Gallagher Jr. (“10 Cloverfield Lane”) is a likeable sort who has a thing for his colleague Leandra (Adria Arjona, television’s “Emerald City”). Director Greg McLean (“Wolf Creek”) wisely gives us snippets of exchanges between various coworkers so that we get a sense of who they are early on.

The day goes according to standard operating procedure until the building itself suddenly seals all windows and doors to form a trap. Then a male voice comes over a loudspeaker informing all the workers that they must begin killing their coworkers or they all will die.

The workers react in various ways. Some are paralyzed with fear, some yell back at the disembodied voice, others begin to wonder whether it would be a good idea to start killing people right away.

One of several terrific scenes involves Barry taking charge and trying to talk everyone into selecting colleagues for execution so that, ultimately, more people will be saved when the “experiment” ends.

All along, you’ll be trying to outguess the motives and the actions of everyone involved while you question what your role would be in proceedings like this. And there are some darkly comic moments, including the soundtrack, which provide some uncomfortable laughs.

It’s slick, it’s witty and it’s disturbing as all get-out. Most likely you already know whether you can tolerate this kind of thing.

I was discussing this movie with a friend when I realized that the script probably has its origins in a real-life experiment that went awry. If you’re not familiar with it already, look up the Stanford Experiment, which was an attempt to study the psychological effects of power, with some people playing the roles of inmates and others the prison guards. Because of the cruelty that evolved, the experiment was stopped early.

This is fiction, of course, and it carries the idea to terrifying extremes. But it’s still mind-bending “What if?” tale that will leave you thinking. And, most likely, shuddering.


Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Broadcast Film Critics Association member. College instructor for criminal justice, English and math. Serves on Safer Foundation and The Salvation Army advisory boards. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church