Mayhem (2017)

The movies occasionally remind us that, deep down, we all want to kill our co-workers. Or maybe just our fellow humans in general. They contrive reasons to make it “okay,” and then let the cathartic bloodlust fill the screen. Last year, it was a social experiment in The Belko Experiment. This year, Mayhem, in which there’s a virus that inhibits people’s moral barriers, allowing them to act with pure id. Apparently, that causes a lot of murders. It’s all just an excuse, anyway. Window dressing.

This one follows Derek (Steven Yeun), a mid-level worker at a law office who gets framed for something he didn’t do and fired by his corporate overlords because of the presumed error. As he’s on his way out, the building enters lockdown. Along with a woman he wronged earlier (Samara Weaving), he makes a plan to head up the corporate ladder, violently if necessary, in order to plead his case and get back his job. It gets violent. How could it not? We’re here for the violence!

Mayhem is gleeful in its approach to the violence. Blood splatters everywhere, people are punctured with all sorts of sharp objects, and office supplies are repurposed into killing tools. It might not be the most creative—the violence all kind of blends together by the end—but you definitely get what you came for. And at just under 90 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. It gets to the point rather quickly and then goes pretty much all-out until it reaches its conclusion. The few moments of downtime provide some laughs, even if they’re largely devoid of real character depth.

But what it lacks in character depth—and we do get some of that, particularly when it comes to Derek, who also gets to narrate the proceedings—it makes up for in social commentary. This is a white-collar, corporate office, one that mistreats its employees and puts profits above all else. This stuff is rife with potential for satire and Mayhem gets its licks in. It’s not particularly deep or fresh about it, but it’s worth appreciating for not just being a brainless action movie. We have tons of those.

Mayhem will likely be appreciated by the same people who enjoy movies like Crank.

It’s also pretty funny. Lots of that comedy comes from the social satire that’s at its core, but there’s some fun interplay between our two office heroes, too. Take a scene in which they talk about bands, and we learn that one of them has an affinity for The Dave Matthews Band. Does that really matter in the grand scheme of things? No, not really. But it’s a funny little character moment that tells us a little about these people and also provides another commentary opportunity. These moments don’t happen too often, but there are enough of them to warrant a mention.

Steven Yeun is a really solid lead in a role that’s tougher than it might initially appear. He has to be our moral compass, a man who’s barely holding it together, and someone who is all too pleased to be able to indulge his id. Sure, it might not be a “deep” role, but it’s difficult nonetheless. Samara Weaving, by contrast, only really gets to play to the final one of those aspects—she’s fun, but she’s playing a less interesting character. Steven Brand gets to ham it up as the villain, which is also enjoyable to watch.

Mayhem will likely be appreciated by the same people who enjoy movies like Crank. It’s an action-comedy that sustains a very high level of momentum for the majority of its running time, doesn’t give you too much to its characters, and provides a little bit of social commentary on top of its over-the-top action. Is it fun? Yeah, it’s fun. And it’s smarter than it probably needed to be. It’s good fun, offers a bit of catharsis—especially if you work in an office—and ends before it wears out its welcome.

Conclusion: Mayhem is a bunch of fun!

Recommendation: If you like over-the-top action movies with a bit of social commentary, Mayhem is for you.

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