Mayhem isn’t the only movie that’s been described as “Office Space meets Battle Royale” this year.
The James Gunn-backed Belko Experiment that proved a surprising sleeper hit to the mainstream horror crowd, already did the whole “murder corporate America” thing pretty damn well just before the summer. Yet still Mayhem stands out as not just an exceptionally fun movie, but a truly exceptional piece of work too. Director Joe Lynch loses the much harder edge that Belko lead with, fostering instead a much more underdog approach to what is now almost a separate sub-genre in itself. And the result is arguably the most cathartic, and beautifully cast movie of the year.
The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun (or Glenn to the die-hard fans of the show) is Lynch’s suited-and-booted everyman; a morally conscious lawyer who fought tooth-and-nail for his corner office and employee perks, but feels nothing but vitriol for the toxic company that made it all happen. When Yeun’s firm becomes quarantined with a virus, known in the US for causing the infected to lose all sense of control over their most primitive urges, he teams up with Samara Weaving’s disgruntled artist to exact bloody revenge on the suits that run not just the office, but what feels like the best part of the world too.
The basic premise here, lowly cubicle workers given what is essentially a free-pass to cause all the workplace mayhem they can possibly muster, is dynamite enough. The script from first-timer Matias Caruso rockets along at a phenomenal pace, cramming in all the necessary background with a totally spot-on sense of humour.
But the real maestro at work here is director Lynch, who never wanders too close to the dark side, keeping things both bloody and frequently tense without sacrificing the oddly feel-good vibe. Everything from his casting to his camera-work here feels incredibly elastic, driven by someone with a real deep-seated hatred for office-working America, who’s ready to laugh in the face of bureaucracy.
And the very same can be said of star Yeun, in his meatiest role to date. Despite being a top-billed regular on TWD for many, many years, this is the first real leading turn from him, but watching Mayhem, you really wouldn’t be able to tell. Yeun has the sort of unbridled energy and personal power here that’s only really found in actors that truly understand their roles. His middle-management yes man feels so genuine right from the off, because you can sense Yeun’s own decades of frustration bleeding through. And when things turn violent he’s a surprisingly imposing force, without ever over-macho-ing his everyman persona.
Weaving’s seriously layered woman scorned definitely deserves a hand too, and not just for her rocket-fuelled wit and seriously genuine chemistry with Yeun. Here she’s a bitingly spiky outsider who never really plays second-fiddle for long. Although she’s mostly around as Yeun’s support, she totally owns her own arc, makes all her own decisions and ultimately proves the most dominant force in the movie.
For such a cheap and punky production, Mayhem proves not only relentlessly entertaining, but brilliantly philosophical too. It’s a rare genre gem that digs right down deep into the very core of its central concept without sacrificing the fun, landing every single promise it makes going forward. It’s brash and violent, but delivered with such wit, wisdom and joy that it’s nigh-on impossible to sit through without at least the faintest glimmers of a smile.
What Lynch has delivered here is a real achievement: a hugely absorbing and cathartic blast of a movie, for every underdog and unappreciated drone the world over.
Mayhem was screened as part of Horror Channel FrightFest 2017 and will be coming to Shudder early 2018.