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John’s Horror Corner: Mayhem (2017), 28 Days Later (2002) symptoms meet Purge-like (2013) tendencies in this corporate Belko-esque rampage.

January 6, 2018

MY CALL:  This film spends more time trying to be brutal than it does actually being brutal…and it spends too much time explaining itself.  Basically, this is Belko-Lite.  But, that said, I was entertained even if unimpressed.  MORE MOVIES LIKE MayhemThis film most closely reminds me of The Belko Experiment (2016) and The Purge (2013), both being clear influences.  The execution also resembles The Signal (2007).  Some other murderously mania-driven films include The Mist (2007) or The Experiment (2010).

Director Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, Chillerama, Knights of Badassdom) has an interesting background.  He’s helmed a brutal and thematically over-the-top gorefest (i.e., incestuous cannibal hillbillies), a tremendously raunchy horror-comedy (complete with a giant monster sperm), and a geekcentric comedy (i.e., LARPing).  During the opening sequence Mayhem’s tone deviates from The Belko Experiment (2016) with a more jocular tone as it introduces us to what is essentially a 28 Days Later (2002) rage virus—only this one has a time limit.

From bright-eyed and bushy-tailed to a cold suit, Derek (Steven Yuen; The Walking Dead) narrates his climb up the corporate ladder along with a brief history of this red-eye virus which leads to, you guessed it, uncontrollable murderous rage.  And guess what?  The virus sneaks its way into this cut-throat corporate office building to melt away moral boundaries and edify what remains with rage during its 8-hour life (which makes no sense at all unless everyone is a genetic clone and has the exact same immune response after being infected/exposed at the exact same time).  This odd time component creates a “Purge effect”—a time window during which mayhem is legally forgiven, and people behave accordingly to their incentives and desires.

After the introductory scenes, the exposition of the dialogue becomes overkill. At times this is sort of funny, but most of the times it’s just plain annoying.  I don’t recall thinking The Belko Experiment (2016) was particularly “tactful” in its storytelling.  But, by comparison, Belko feels quite eloquent.

Now infected and resenting his superiors, Derek teams up with Melanie (Samara Weaving; The Babysitter, Ash vs Evil Dead) to kill his way up the corporate ladder to the top floor.  On their way they dispatch seven-figure suits nicknamed The Boss (Steven Brand; Demons, Teen Wolf), The Siren (Caroline Chikezie; Aeon Flux) and The Reaper (Dallas Roberts; The Grey, Shadow People, Tell Tale).  The violence and blood are abundant.  You can tell this film really wanted to be brutal… but it just wasn’t. Violent? Yes, very. But brutal? Not when compared to the likes of The Belko Experiment (2016) or The Purge (2013).  Not even close.  Not that it won’t be entertaining for fans of ultraviolent movies.  People are beaten to death as their assailants cackle with blood dripping down their face.  It just never made me wince.

The major flaw in this film—what most kept it from being as fun as it could have been (for me, at least)—was that this movie couldn’t seem to decide exactly how this virus affects people.  Not everyone’s morals break down as the scientist on TV dryly overexplains—at least, not consistently.  Some infected people seem to have total control, some have odd temper tantrums, and some go zompacalyptically berserk with bloodlust. It’s almost like The Signal (2007) in how madness overtakes the infected.  One minute someone is calculating and rationale, the next they are mindlessly rabid.

Overall, I was left feeling many things. I was happy to see Steven Yuen step outside The Walking Dead while staying near horror; I was largely disappointed by the storytelling and dialogue while pleasantly surprised by the opening sequence and some of the general blood-lusted hysteria; and, I guess although I was not at all impressed, I was definitely entertained.  Take from that what you will.

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