In a twisted play on a spoken hypothetical fantasy of most office works, director Greg McClean creates a tense situation as 80 white collar employees are trapped in their remote office building by an unseen force. Their mandate by this unknown malevolence; to kill each other or risk being killed themselves without a struggle. What would you do and how would you survive?
The story has an ensemble cast, but is primarily focused on its main protagonist Michael Milch, played by John Gallagher Jr., and office manager Barry Norris, played by Tony Goldwyn. The day starts with several red flags, but nothing that puts anyone into a heightened state of awareness at first. There are guards at the front door that they hadn’t seen before, but since it is a government owned facility, they don’t think much of it.
All of the local Columbians are sent home for the day, only leaving the 80 Americans. However, when an unrecognized voice comes over the intercom and announces that they must kill two in the next 30 minutes, they are all made aware, but feel it is still a prank. It is only when the giant metal shutters clank into place and the 30 minutes elapses that the severity of their situation is made apparent.
The strength of this movie is its premise. The idea of being locked in a game to the death with friends and acquaintances isn’t entirely new; but the improvisational nature of this, as well as the familiarity of all of the participants and the constantly changing premises provided by the orchestrators adds a great deal of tension to the film. That is where it would stand out from comparable movies; there is so much more tension, as well as a lot more violence, then we see in a lot of films. Add in the film’s sparse 90 minute runtime, and you get a large amount of tension without a lot of time or room to breathe; both for the characters and the audience.
One of the film’s drawbacks is the number of characters involved. In other death game survival horror films, the number of participants is usually single digit or only slightly higher. Much more than 12 characters and you run the risk of detachment as it becomes too confusing to remember all of them. There are a few that stand out; especially personal favorites Dany Wilkins, played by Melonie Diaz, and Wendell Dukes, played by John C. McGinley.
There is also a good deal of dark comedy in this film that offers legitimate – and much needed – brevity to the violent gore fest. Although some mght find it tasteless to have some of the quality of jokes in the film – particularly in the ironic deaths of no less than three characters; however, for those who appreciate a little more twisted sense of humor, the efforts will not be wasted.
This film stands to be one of the more decisive films released this year. There are going to be those who see it as a violent gore fest that doubles as playing out a violent murder fantasy of going ballistic against office co-workers. And there are going to be those who see depth to it: such as a twisted sense of humor, office and gender politics being intelligently discussed and displayed, as well as a legitimate sociological analysis of the human condition in extreme situations. Regardless of which side of that argument you land on, the film should be viewed as an artistic success if nothing else because it will have you talking about it for weeks after the fact.
It is difficult to call a film provocative when it features someone’s head exploding set to classical music, or intelligent when it shows someone’s head being bashed in with office equipment, but somehow this film pulled it off. This film had a great sense of humor, interesting social commentary, and even left itself open for a sequel without seeming trite or holding the audience’s hand. It is far from a perfect film, but it is one that will be entertaining to a wide range of violence… so long as that range to people who can stomach intense, grisly, violence.