My notes on Mayhem
Here, at least, is a variation on the ‘rage virus’ premise of The Crazies or 28 days later … that has a few new wrinkles involving its ID-7 or ‘red-eye’ virus. It’s not as clever or well-thought-through as the Spanish Summer Camp, which similarly posits a temporary loss of facilities rather than a terminal or permanent condition. Here, red-eye infectees surrender to primal impulses (mostly violent, though some sexual) while they’ve got the bug and need legal representation afterwards to can duck the consequences of the awful things they did when the moral brakes were off. Derek Cho (Steven Yuen) is the legal drone who’s earned a corner office by getting a precedent set that ID-7 sufferers can’t be prosecuted for willful murder … though that’s still not enough to stop him being the scapegoat for a higher-up’s bungling and conflict of interests, and getting fired and told to leave the building.
However, ID-7 has just struck the building and all the employees of the ruthless law firm are trapped by quarantine – just as the madness takes hold and people who have been recruited because they have no moral compass whatsoever are let off the chain. Derek teams up with Melanie (Samara Weaving), trapped in the building after failing to get a reversal of her home repossession order, to fight and finagle his way up the tower – getting past such human monsters as the job-termination specialist known as the Reaper (Dallas Roberts), the fixer called the Siren (Caroline Chikezie, the Cyberwoman from that Torchwood episode), the security goon tagged the Bull (Andre Eriksen) and the vicious partner who doesn’t even have a nickname Irene Smythe (Kerry Fox). Derek’s goal to is murder his golfclub-swinging alpha bastard boss John Towers (Steven Brand, in a role that could have used a name guest star) and plead his own precedent to get away with it. The eponymous mayhem ensues, with the expected levels of gore gags.
Scripted by Matias Caruso and directed by Joe Lynch (Wrong Turn 2), this carnage-in-an-office-block guignol does what the title says – but is shallow compared to The Belko Experiment, let alone High-Rise or Shivers. There are a few stabs at the evils of corporate law, and the main attraction of seeing horrible people stripped of the thin veneer of civilisation doesn’t quite work when almost all the cast are reprehensible in the first place – and the legal violence the firm habitually doles out is already compounded by the security goons’ physical brutality. Frankly, it would be funnier if this outbreak took place somewhere that wasn’t already characterised by exaggerated evil – head office of a charity, say – and where the violence was more unexpected. A possibly interesting angle is raised in a throwaway joke where one of Smythe’s putupon minions says that she’s probably nicer with the infection than normally – the premise of this sort of cartoon would be undermined if some of the lawyers started acting on their suppressed better instincts and tore up mortgages or gave away information that allowed oppressed victims to fight back. Only Derek shows any conscience – and he’s fixated throughout on committing murder and getting away with it (he barely shows any signs of infection – and it’d be cooler if he were immune but just canny enough to exploit his own loophole).
Yuen is likeable enough in the lead and one or two of the other players (Roberts, Fox) bring something more to their characters than is in the script. It opens with a narrated montage, then crams in exposition and set-up before the bug strikes – there are parallels with the smaller group of trapped possible infectees in the similarly broad and misanthropic The Bar – then does gruesome spot gags for a while before getting to the actual plot. Weariness sets in after the fifth or sixth stabbing, though. Made in Serbia.
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