Synopsis – A virus spreads through an office complex causing white collar workers to act out their worst impulses.
My Take – I am sure all of us have at least once thought about killing our managers or co-workers, considering most of us work in a 9 to 5 environment where we all are usually undervalued, underappreciated and often end up finding out that someone has been back stabbing you all this time. We also often find ourselves under someone that knows nothing about what you do—or worse ends up derailing everything you have worked so hard for in just a matter of few seconds. Sadly, this is the kind of the corporate world we now live in, which can lead to an employee building up resentment due to dissatisfaction and with a realization that things won’t turn out his/her way, we begin fantasizing about our revenge. However, ultimately a resignation becomes the only logical road to drive into. Here, director Joe Lynch has created a violent outlet for all the boiling work frustrations and resentments, where we finding colleagues embracing how they truly think and feel without the typical filters. Sure, the setup is similar to director Greg McLean‘s The Belko Experiment, which released earlier this year, and was more of a psychological and morally complex thriller with less perceptive of the office environment as related to its high concept. Luckily, this film does a much better job of maintaining its tone while pivoting from horrific encounters to comedic observations. This killer cross between Crank and Office Space is not only way better in terms of story and acting, but is also quite mean-spirited and opens itself up to more humor and twisted enthusiasm. You may also not find much in the way of social commentary like other virus infection stories, but this one more than makes up for it with its shear audacity. Yes, I can certainly see this one garnering something of a cult status. The story follows Derek Cho (Steven Yeun), a corporate attorney working at a mechanically soulless corporate law firm called Towers & Smythe Consulting, whose rise from an utter nobody to senior nobody has left both friends and foes in his wake. His claim to fame was the discovery of a legal loophole in a trail that allowed a murderer to escape punishment stating that the man-made, emotion-heightening virus called ID7 by which he infected was to blame.
However, despite paying his dues at the job, he now finds himself unable to go any further thanks to Kara aka The Siren (Caroline Chikezie), a vindictive Operations Manager who frames Derek, for her mistake & purposely gets him fired. Despite, the HR enforcer, known as The Reaper (Dallas Roberts) visiting him with an exit offer, Derek signs nothing and instead take his grievance to the top, literally, up the elevator to the top floor where the big bosses such as John Towers (Steven Brand), Irene Symthe (Kerry Fox) and the board of partners known as The Nine reside, but to no vain. While he’s stunned at the unfortunate turn of events, we learn that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has quarantined the entire high-rise the company resides in for right hours due to an outbreak of the exact same virus. With almost everyone infected, Derek pairs up with Melanie Cross (Samara Weaving), a young woman he himself recently screwed over by not helping her combat the bank that was repossessing her home, with a promise to help her once he gets his revenge. As the two plow their way past potential and lethal threats, armed with whatever is around them – a wrench, a nail gun, a handheld power saw – the duo dispense interns, colleagues and managers, all while Towers puts a 450k bounty on Derek’s head. The concept for the film is fairly simple, enriched with some fun characters. From the outside looking in, the film might appear to owe some inspirations to the likes of Dredd and The Raid, but whereas those grim murder marathons rarely showed signs of levity, this film has them in abundance. It constantly winks at its audience, cheekily inviting them along for a blood-soaked rampage with every knowing swing of a hammer. Running for just 86 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, as it gets to the point rather quickly and then goes pretty much all-out until it reaches its conclusion. The few moments of downtime provide some laughs, even if they’re largely devoid of real character depth. Set entirely within the high-rise corporate offices of the law firm Towers & Smythe Consulting, the film spends its opening act decrying the company for its cutthroat, dog-eat-dog environment. After trudging through this exposition, the film finally kicks into gear with the announcement of the quarantine & soon, the employees locked inside the building are rapidly infected and turned into oversexed, hyper-violent maniacs. One of the things I really loved here is that the cause of the mayhem is a virus which is more realistic than explosive chips put in the skulls of co-workers of a firm who were ordered to kill each other by a mystery voice as show in the James Gunn written Belko Experiment, hereby making the violence and chaos more enjoyable. Plus it’s not all about violence, though majorly violence, I also felt the corporate environment was better portrayed here. As the hosts of the rabid virus succumb to wild altercations leaving anyone in their path in a bloody mess, either severely injured, maimed or dead. Others can just be found fornicating in broad daylight, clearly communicating that they’re beyond free from any social boundaries. The first signs of an ID7 infection is when one of the host’s eyes becomes blood red and then, well, the way in which they respond to someone who talks to them or is near to them. This virus has a hold of everyone so that the extras are engaged in violence for violence sake too. But this isn’t 28 Days Later, as the affected aren’t zombies, they’re just devoid of inhibitions. Here, screenwriter Matias Caruso has written a very entertaining script for the characters to inhabit. He wields absurdity as a weapon for brutality and humor due to the scenario’s inherent air of surreal delusion wherein nightmare is craved.
Just because the main group lines-up against each other to injure, coerce, and kill, however, don’t forget to also look past them onto the nameless periphery players. The film is also gleeful in its approach to the violence. Blood splatters everywhere, people are punctured with all sorts of sharp objects, and office supplies are repurposed into killing tools, while, it might not be the most creative—the violence all kind of blends together by the end—but you definitely get what you came for. Apart from the main thrust of the story, director Lynch also fills the background with madness, be it dried blood smears in the copy room or ongoing cubicle fistfights that fill the frame. We can connect some dots and imagine the tension and petty frustrations that led to the brawls. This adds another layer of interest even as the narrative occasionally spins its wheels, hammering home Derek’s plight and at times bordering on taking it too seriously. Thankfully, there’s always an impalement or spurting wound that zaps the film back into the appropriate mood. However, the film works mainly as the leads are so likable & relatable, for example, all Derek wants is his job back and here is on a principled—albeit maniacal—quest to acquire an outcome he deserves because it is just and along with this newfound dedication to honesty, he’s opening himself up to the reality that he too fell prey to material desires. On the other hand, Melanie is an entertaining counterpart to Derek, displaying a cooler disposition under stressful environments, wearing bright Ray Ban sunglasses and brandishing a nail gun as her preferred weapon of choice. With a penchant for Motörhead, the character turns into a ruthless office warrior, pausing to role her eyes at Derek’s mention of the Dave Matthews Band being good live musicians. They both play out like video-game characters, as they are forced to stop on several different floors to wage battle with essentially lower-level bosses in order to gain access to key cards which allow them to further work their way up toward the top floor. Throughout all of director Lynch’s crazy-bloody action and wildly uninhibited behavior, the film is also laced with some decidedly dark humor, something which was needed to offer some levity to the film. Office politics are mocked and acknowledged in tongue-in-cheek irreverence. Here, screenwriter Caruso and director Lynch nail the inanity of corporate jargon, superfluous rankings and egos backed by monumental salaries, breaking people down to their ugly, raw nature. Yes, I will admit that the film is a tad cliché, a tad cheesy, a tad cheap, but that doesn’t take away from the entertainment of it. Also a portion of the cleverness is additionally a bit excessively vulgar, as a companion of Derek is pissed on to additionally anger him. Plus, like so many shoot-‘em-up video games that repeatedly break for cut-scenes, the film too often diffuses its tense energy by whipping up context. Throughout, the screenplay needlessly explicates in great detail the corporate culture it aims to satirize, we are given only minute details of the virus that causes everyone it infects to lose all their inhibitions. Coming to the performances, everyone here grabs his/her role by with both hands and shines in them thoroughly. Steven Yeun, the beloved Glenn from The Walking Dead series, clearly showing off what he can bring to the table as an actor with his energetic and bustling performance. Yeun (who also serves as executive producer) is solid in a role that’s tougher than it might initially appear. Samara Weaving (The Babysitter) too is great. She has this magnetism that’s impossible to deny – a natural charisma that makes every interaction between she and her co-stars so natural and entertaining. Weaving is a total revelation here, killing and cackling along with abandon at the twisted things going on around her. As long as she keeps getting challenging and interesting roles like this, Weaving has all the tools to be the next big thing. In supporting roles, Steven Brand, Caroline Chikezie, Dallas Roberts and Kerry Fox seem to be having fun hamming all the way. On the whole, ‘Mayhem’ is a breathless ride, that is not only very violent, deranged and totally crazy but also wholly fun.
Directed – Joe Lynch
Rated – R
Run Time – 86 minutes