Mayhem (2017)

Mayhem first published by SciFiNow

Derek Cho (Steven Yeun) is having a bad day. Essentially a good guy, if driven by ambition, he has been steadily climbing the corporate ladder as a loophole expert at Towers and Smythe Consulting, while slowly losing his soul. This morning, for example, when Melanie Cross (Samara Weaving) meets him begging that he delay the foreclosure on her house, he toes the corporate line and ignores her pleas. Yet the reward for his loyalty is to find higher-ups Kara ‘The Siren’ Powell (Caroline Chikezie) and coke-snorting CEO John ‘The Boss’ Towers (Steven Brand) setting him up to take the fall for their own mistakes in a multi-million dollar contract. Summarily fired, he is being escorted out, when the building is placed under quarantine as the ID7 Virus spreads rapidly through the staff, stripping everyone of their inhibitions. With the building under lockdown for the eight hours that it will take the ‘red-eye’ virus to subside, and with a legal precedent that allows anyone infected to get away with literal murder, Derek decides to become proactive in confronting those in charge, and is soon joined by Melanie in his bloody quest for justice from upstairs.

 What follows is a perfect storm of the id-unleashing virus of Impulse (1984), the amoral ultraviolence of A Clockwork Orange (1971), the criminal impunity of The Purge (2013) and the office extremism of The Belko Experiment (2016). It is also very, very funny, as Matias Caruso’s witty screenplay satirises the cutthroat ethics of the business place, and the seething rage that lies dormant in any bureaucratic environment. Choreographing all the chaos and carnage is director Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2: Dead End, Knights of Badassdom, Everly), who fills every background with surreal comic business (not just sex and violence, but also people manically applying makeup or attaching post-it notes to their person). And during their aggressive takeover of Towers and Smythe, Derek and Melanie’s getting-to-know-you banter is a real joy. 

Much of the humour here is rooted in hyperbole, as everyday workspace frictions are resolved with hammers, scissors, nail guns and fire hydrants, and boardroom negotiations are signed off in blood and gore, even as the conduct of the top brass – psychopaths right from the start – barely seems to change as the virus kicks in. If there is any viewer discomfort involved in following our protagonist through a high bodycount toward his ultimate business goals and moral centre, the beauty is that Lynch, like Derek, ultimately turns all this explosive depravity into art.    

Strap: A virus exaggerates the manic micro-aggressions and cutthroat ethics of a corporate office building.

© Anton Bitel