Second Sight: The Structure of Mayhem

2017 has seen the death of several blockbusters and the failure of ill-advised franchises.  While the horror genre continues to flourish, talented auteurs continue to carve out their own places within the landscape of modern cinema, testing the possibilities of the medium in other genres.  Despite underwhelming financial figures, niche films have had a remarkable year.  Zahler's Brawl in Cell Block 99, Villenueve's Blade Runner 2049, and Miike's Blade of the Immortal have all received positive critical reception while simultaneously capturing the hearts and minds of their beloved fans.  Joe Lynch's furious horror comedy Mayhem is another film that deserves to be counted as a peer to these exceptional genre films.  

Succeeding where The Belko Experiment failed, Lynch's attention to structure, both within the narrative of the story and with respect to the evil corporation at the center of the action catapults Mayhem above other forgetful corporate satires and economic thrillers.  The setup is simple: A new disease has spread across the globe, removing any sense of morality or restraint from its victims.  When the disease infects an entire office building, a recently fired employee decides to kill his way up the corporate ladder in order to plead his case to the Board of Directors.  Matias Caruso's script drips with pitch black comedy and a playful sense of malevolence.  The entire story could be an allegory for the current distress within the United States, both politically and socially.  One of the film's best qualities is how it explores hierarchies.  As the foundations of polite society begin to erode and three-piece tribalism begins to spread throughout the building, adherence to the chain of command, promotional back stabbing, and coveted key cards become the real weapons.  

Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead) stars as the recently fired Derek Cho.  Trading zombies for sycophants, his absolute surrender to his role is shocking.  He's funny, tragic, and violent, almost entirely at the same time.  This is the type of film that talks to the audience, cracking the 4th wall but never breaking it.  His narration is hilarious, a total indulgence in Lynch's professional madhouse.  Yeun's character isn't necessarily the everyman, but he is the total sum of our outrages with the world around us.  He is supported by Samara Weaving (The Babysitter) as a client who is trapped inside the building during the quarantine.  Like Yuen, she jumps headfirst into the copy machine maelstrom and her chemistry with Yeun is both unexpectedly natural and profoundly deviant.  This is the power of Mayhem.  Alliances constantly shift, lackeys rise and fall, and the American Dream continues to fracture while good and bad people commit horrific atrocities.  

It would have been easy to make this a mean-spirited film.  The world is a hurtful place and America is more divided than ever.  Lynch's approach though is more of a mirror than a soapbox, showing the viewer that anyone is capable of darkness, when pushed to the limit.  This is more of a plea to embrace inconveniences and setbacks as natural parts of life and to rebuke the social media enraged reactions that have become hallmarks.  Dallas Roberts’ supporting turn as an insidious corporate executioner best simulates this concept by playing the antithesis, a true rogue whose allegiance is to the truth he can make rather than the truth that exists.  His scenes with Yeun and Weaving are the core philosophical center of Mayhem, a nasty pit of revelations and deceptions that are roiling under the surface of American society right now.  

While the message is important, the presentation is not without flaws.  Borrowing heavily from the sensational Dredd, the action can feel repetitive after the initial shock wears off.  Steve Gainer's camerawork lacks confidence, and almost slips into video game territory several times during climatic fight scenes.  Still, Lynch knows what he is working with and for the most part manages to wring every bit of humor and talent out of his cast and crew, delivering a final product that is far better than it has any business being.  

Available now for digital rental, Mayhem is an exceptionally good time.  A scathing dissent against the culture of greed and entitlement, this is a genre film that will appeal to horror die-hards and those with an appreciation for obsidian satires.  If you're interested in an outlandish film that takes the humor of Office Space and blends it with horrific carnage, this will not let you down.

--Kyle Jonathan