Office politics get gory in Mayhem, an action/comedy/horror concoction in which coworkers engage in bloody combat. The setup is similar to this year’s The Belko Experiment, which is more mean-spirited and less perceptive of the office environment as related to its high concept. Mayhem does a much better job of maintaining its tone while pivoting from horrific encounters to comedic observations. Director Joe Lynch enthusiastically moves from one wild sequence to the next and sustains energy even as the screenplay occasionally pauses to rehash story, with information dumps that somewhat belie the film’s title.
Office drone Derek (Steven Yeun) provides a handy voiceover getting us up to speed on the ID7 virus, which removes inhibitions and boosts the id, causing most of the infected to act violently. Thanks to a legal case involving the virus, Derek has clawed his way up to middle management at his firm; a rise that ends when he’s blamed for someone else’s mistake. As the fired patsy leaves the building, the CDC locks it down. ID7 has been unleashed in the tower and red-eyed employees quickly clash. Together with Melanie (Samara Weaving), a lender being screwed-over by the company, Derek battles his way to the upper floors on a quest to confront the CEO and board of directors.
We’re given the lay of the corporate landscape efficiently, introduced to bullies, put-upon assistants, and the like. There’s even the guy who drinks kale smoothies and meditates in his office. The mission is laid out almost like a videogame, ascending levels to confront smaller baddies – the no-nonsense HR guy (Dallas Roberts) and a conniving executive (Caroline Chikezie) – on the way up to the boss (Steven Brand).
A series of clashes that could start to feel repetitive is aided by the commitment of Yeun and Weaving, as well as their adversaries. Everyone has a motivation that fits typical business maneuvering – the nail guns, scissors, and hammers just take the bickering to a gloriously over-the-top level. The entire cast sells the chaos and captures the right tenor. The virus provides an easy excuse for the gratuitousness – even the (un)romantic encounter that would typically feel superfluous makes sense amid the madness.
Apart from the main thrust of the story, Lynch also fills the background with madness, be it dried blood smears in the copy room or ongoing cubicle fistfights that fill the frame. We can connect some dots and imagine the tension and petty frustrations that led to the brawls. This adds another layer of interest even as the narrative occasionally spins its wheels, hammering home Derek’s plight and at times bordering on taking it too seriously. Thankfully, there’s always an impalement or spurting wound that zaps Mayhem back into the appropriate mood.
Much of the B-movie representation of office drama is rooted in the identifiable, including the stealing of a favorite coffee mug, that makes the pandemonium more amusing. The 8-hour timeframe the CDC gives for the airborne antidote to work is a nice touch. These animals are going through an exceptional 9 to 5 grind before returning to normal. Whatever normal is.
The rough day at the office is time well spent with (literally) cutthroat, along with other body parts, competition and two leads that nail the unrestrained attitude. Mayhem is crazy fun.