Saturday 30 June 2018

MAYHEM (2017)

Directed by: Joe Lynch, Starring: Steven Yeun, Samara Weaving, Steven Brand, Caroline Chikezie. Action/horror, US 2017, 98mins, Cert 15.

A global virus strain known as ID-7 or the ‘Red-Eye’ virus causes the infected (‘redders’) to drop all their inhibitions, resulting in baser instincts rising to the surface, or as our narrator Derek Cho (Steven Yeun) summarises: “...basic human dignity takes a sick leave”.

Ambitious ’suit’ Derek has worked his way up the corporate ladder at a morally dubious legal firm. Promotion and a coveted corner office come a calling when Derek employs a legal loophole to clear an infected ‘redder’ of murder on the grounds that a person under the influence of ID-7 cannot be responsible for their actions. (That’ll prove to be very important for Derek later on). But despite this inspired legal precedent setting chicanery, Derek is subsequently stitched up for a cock-up with a major client’s account by ruthless arch-rival Kara ‘The Siren’ (Caroline Chikezie). Finding himself being unceremoniously fired, Derek is about to be escorted off the firm’s premise when an outbreak of the Red-Eye virus is detected in the building and an 8-hour quarantine is imposed by Hazmat suited armed guards whilst a neutraliser is pumped into the buildings ventilation system.

Joe Lynch’s visceral corporate satire wastes little time in laying out its stall as we are treated to an opening slow-motion monochrome (and crimson red) tableaux illustrating the potential consequences of the ID-7 strain on an ordinary office environment. Orchestrated to the sounds of Rossini’s ‘The Thieving Magpie’ (one of Kubrick’s musical go-tos in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE), Lynch’s montage of  ultra-violence and unrestrained sexual gratification in a seemingly ordinary sterile office space succinctly previews the chaos and mayhem yet to be unleashed on, around, and by Steven Yeun. Fans of ‘The Walking Dead’ still reeling from his character’s brutal demise by barbed-wire baseball bat will surely relish seeing Yeun dishing out a considerable amount of violence himself as formerly mild(ish)-mannered Derek on fellow office employees as he fights tooth and nail to reach the top floor and seek justice from the firm’s tyrannical overlord (Steven Brand). In this bloody quest he is ably accompanied by Samara (The BABYSITTER) Weaving, who originally came to Cho to plead for an extension to pay off a loan before being caught up in the Red-Eye delirium and ends up nail gunning her way alongside him.

Lynch awards himself an amusing minor role as the underappreciated and under-resourced ‘IT guy’ Ray who can hack into the board of trustees files once he can be dissuaded to put down the keyboard he’s belting the living daylights out of. (Fellow FrightFest alumni Adam Green also appears in a blink and you’ll miss it cameo).

Once the Red-Eye kicks in after about the 25-minute mark, the film glides seemingly effortlessly from one often violent office encounter to another with rarely any let-up. Despite this, the actual amount of on-screen gore is surprisingly restrained, and a couple of key villainous character’s demises are coyly rendered off-screen. This is an interesting choice on the part of Lynch, which occasional subverts and denies the expected crowd-pleasing beats.  

Whilst the subject of office-based horror/satire is not an untrodden path e.g. THE BELKO EXPERIMENT and BLOODSUCKING BASTARDS, Lynch’s modestly budgeted DIE HARD meets 9 TO 5 take is slick, sharp and as entertaining as hell. Perfect viewing after a hard day at the office. 

****(OUT OF 5*)

Paul Worts

This review was first published by FrightFest.