The Belko Experiment is in theaters now. Buy your tickets here.
Warning: Minor spoilers ahead!
Writer/director Greg McClean has existed on the fringes of horror cinema thus far, and that’s where he belongs. His movies all feel dangerous, even though they’ve been backed and distributed by major studios. The Wolf Creek films minted a new horror icon in Mick Taylor (played by Ozploitation staple John Jarratt), a psychopathic crucifixion expert who calls the Outback home. Rogue revitalized the ‘animals attack’ subgenre with its flesh-craving croc. The Darkness saw McClean dipping a toe into supernatural thrills, as a family brings a malevolent force back with them from a seemingly ordinary vacation. Now comes The Belko Experiment – his take on a James Gunn (Slither, Guardians of the Galaxy) script that equates corporate culture with genocidal slaughter inside of a high-tech high rise. It’s a completely crazy conceit that’s executed with splattery aplomb you need to see before it exits theaters.
We had the chance to chat with McClean during Belko’s opening weekend, and what followed was a rather frank discussion regarding a film that seemed to scare the shit out of everyone but those who were creating it…
BMD: How did you come to The Belko Experiment originally? I know it’s a script that’s been kicking around for some time now.
Greg McClean: My agent sent the script to me, and it came simply as a directing project. There were a couple other people reading it at the time, and the script just blew my mind. I called my agent and was like “why are you sending me a script that will never get made?” Because it was too crazy, and too funny, and I just thought it was never going to happen. It was too brilliant. And my agent was like “no, they’re making it. It’s happening.” So, I told them that, no matter what they had to do, they needed to get me a call with [screenwriter] James [Gunn], and it went from there.
BMD: Now, with your other films, you’ve hit on specific horror subgenres. What do you look for each time you set out to make a horror movie?
GM: I think the most important thing is to find something that’s going to genuinely surprise the audience. There are just too many horror films that don’t do anything new or anything I haven’t seen before. With The Belko Experiment, I thought we were really subverting expectations. It’s funny, but it’s also crazy. I was attracted to the insanity of the script. It was unhinged, in a way.
BMD: It is a totally nutso movie.
GM: And that’s what I wanted to make – a film with a very punk and “fuck you” attitude.
BMD: It comes off that way. I’m not going to lie, I spend a lot of time watching horror and exploitation. But Belko Experiment reaches “splatter” levels of gore at certain moments. Did you have any issues with the MPAA?
GM: This is pretty much my vision. There won’t be any sort of “Director’s Cut” or anything. At the script stage, we knew that it was a completely bananas film, and we knew we were going to have to embrace that and go for it. I just went into it thinking I’m going to try and make something really impactful. And not just violence for violence’s sake, but to really serve the story in a shocking and confrontational way.
When we finished the movie, we definitely had a few people going “oh my God, this might’ve gone too far. You might’ve gone too crazy.” But our argument has always been that we didn’t make this movie to half-ass anything. We’re going to make something that’s really out there.
BMD: The movie’s definitely shocking. It got a solid reaction out of my audience. That first bit of gore – where Michael Rooker gets his skull caved in – made everyone gasp.
GM: Aw, that’s great.
BMD: Since we’re on the topic of Rooker – there are a bunch of James Gunn’s regular players who pop up in the picture. How was collaborating with him?
GM: Once we got on the phone and started talking about the movie, we really connected. From there, I made up a big director’s booklet with plenty of images, reference points, and text. That was my theory for how the film was going to work and what I could bring to the project as a whole. After I was hired, we just jumped right into our casting because we had a start date that wasn’t too far away.
Collaborating with James was great because he’d just nudge at certain things like “what about Rooker for this role? What about Sean [Gunn, James’ brother] for this role?” and these were all just brilliant suggestions. On set, it was nice to have him and [producer] Peter [Safran] around because James has a very specific tone to his writing, especially with the comedy. I haven’t done a lot of comedy, so it was good to bounce certain things off him and see how certain lines would play. In post, he was a great resource when people started to get a little nervous about the movie, because he and Peter would step in and say, “look, we’ve made horror movies before. We know what we’re doing. Just trust us that it’s going to work out.” They really backed my vision for the film.
BMD: I want to hear more about setting the movie in Colombia, because I have a theory about it.
GM: The original script was set in a large South American city. It was a way to separate these characters from the United States and lent some credence to the idea that each employee has a tracker installed in their neck, because there are a large number of kidnappings in that part of the world. In Bogota, there was a healthy rebate, and great crews, and it was pretty much set in stone by the time I signed on.
I’m curious about your theory.
BMD: Well, what I found fascinating about setting this movie in Colombia – a country deeply entrenched in the violent drug trade – was that your use of almost genocidal imagery created a subtext equating corporate hierarchies with dictatorships willing to utilize mass executions in their pursuits of power.
GM: That’s a solid subtext. That’s not something I’d intended, but it’s an incredible one to pick up.
BMD: Can you talk to be about the studios who made the movie and how it was to work with Blumhouse?
GM: MGM was the studio that financed the movie, because James has a really good relationship with [Production Chief] John Glickman, who had always been a fan of the script. When we started to show the movie, Blumhouse flipped out, and then Orion came back and re-teamed with them to release the movie. They’ve all been great collaborators, because we’ve been given a lot of freedom, obviously, and then the marketing team has been just terrific.
BMD: To me, this movie feels like a hard sell. It’s wild and brutal and doesn’t play by any standard rules. What kind of experience do you want audience members to take away from The Belko Experiment?
GM: People who like to be surprised and confronted with uncomfortable and crazy ideas, as well as fans of very visceral cinema, are going to get a kick out of this movie. On one level, it’s incredibly funny and weird, but then it has another level that’s very intense. If you’re a fan of thrillers, it’s going to really click with you.
To me, the movie is all about what happens when people take corporate ideology to its natural conclusion – which is kill or be killed because your company is telling you to do so. That’s where real evil can fester and appear. The corporate ideology can become totally evil if we let it.