There are movies with plots that are so patently absurd, you sit there, with your arms folded, scoffing at them, thinking, “This could never happen.” Then there are movies with plots that are so intriguing, featuring scenarios that, no matter how out-there, make you sit back, hold onto your armrest, and think, “Oh, man, what would I do in this situation?”

“The Belko Experiment,” written by James Gunn (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) and directed by Greg McLean (“Wolf Creek”) finds some common ground between those two categories, and turns out to be a terrific, if outlandish, violent, and darkly funny study of human nature, where survival is all that matters.

It’s just another day at the office for the folks at Belko Industries, situated in an eight-story building far out on the outskirts of Bogota, Colombia. It’s a firm that “facilitates American companies in the hiring of American workers in South America,” or something like that. Because the place is in Colombia, it’s heavily guarded by serious-looking men with big guns outside. Because so many Americans work there, each one on their first day on the job, has a tiny tracer implanted in the back of their head. You know, in case there’s a kidnapping, and they need to be located.

OK, this is not just another day at the office. The regular guards have been given the day off, and have been replaced by a new batch of armed men. And out of the usual hundreds of employees, most have been told to stay home. Still, things seem to be normal. Until an announcement comes over the intercom. Something to the effect of, “There are 80 of you in the building. Within the next 8 hours, most of you will be dead.” Then it gets worse: “Within the next 30 minutes, each of you must kill two of your coworkers, or we will start killing you.”

Well, now, talk about having an interesting work day. “This is a joke,” says one guy. “There must be a rational explanation,” says company CEO Barry Norris (Tony Goldwyn). “This is a conspiracy,” says possibly heroic office drone Mike Milch (John Gallagher, Jr.). “You’ve got to calm down,” says Leandra Flores (Adria Arjona), the recently divorced woman Mike is having a fling with. “You should be sleeping with me,” hisses slimy junior executive Wendell Dukes (John C. McGinley) to Leandra when Mike isn’t looking.

It’s after the doors lock, impenetrable metal shields cover up every window, all phone reception vanishes, and one guy’s head explodes (remember those tracer implants?) that everyone starts to take things seriously. Shortly after that, panicky chaos ensues, along with shootings, stabbings, impalements, one really cool (and inexplicably funny) axe murder, and lots more explosive head implants doing their thing.

“We must keep things in order,” says Barry, while the voice on the intercom returns to announce, “In 2 hours, 30 of you must be dead, or we will kill 60 of you.” Suffice it to say, things get a little jittery when time is almost up and only 29 have been exterminated by the same people they used to hang out with at the water cooler. Never has Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor been used more effectively.

The crowning glory of the film is that, among the bloody carnage and accompanying black humor, in the midst of the attempts at order and the struggle for survival, all of the actors are right on the mark of having their characters take everything completely seriously. It all winds up with an appropriately and kind of liberating violent ending. It’s a rare treat to have so much fun at a movie that concentrates on so many people being in such distress.

— Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now.

“The Belko Experiment”
Written by James Gunn; directed by Greg McLean
John Gallagher Jr., Tony Goldwyn, John C. McGinley, Michael Rooker
Rated R