Director: Joe Lynch
Cast: Steven Yeun, Samara Weaving, Steven Brand, Caroline Chikezie, Dallas Roberts, Kerry Fox, Mark Frost
Running Time: 1:26
Release Date: 11/10/17 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | November 9, 2017
They can't help or stop themselves from acting out their basest impulses. That's the legal and moral argument made within the world of Mayhem, in which a virus called ID-7 causes people to lose control of their psychological faculties—essentially turning people into walking, talking ids.
By the start of the movie, there have been outbreaks around the world, and one such outbreak in the United States led to a criminal case. A man killed his boss by stabbing him repeatedly with a pen. The defendant's lawyers made the case that he wasn't legally responsible, since the virus hinders the mind's capacity to stop a person from killing.
All of this information is laid out in detail and repeated throughout the movie, in which another outbreak occurs in the building that houses the law firm that, ironically, represented the acquitted killer. This turns out to be a good cover for Derek Cho (Steven Yeun), an up-and-comer at the firm who's wrongly fired for negligence. He's not responsible for what he may do to avenge his termination, and he intends to avenge it with a bloody spectacle.
This raises at least one, significant moral and legal quandary: Even if Derek has been infected with the id-heightening/superego-blocking virus, does the fact that he plots to kill his bosses still make him legally and morally responsible for his actions? The idea, as far as we can tell from the information we get, is that the virus would make such planning impossible.
Anything that's done while under its influence would, in theory, be done in a sort of fugue state. That seems to be the contention. Derek, though, is most definitely not in such a state. Throughout the movie, he's fully aware of himself, his plan, and his actions (Just so we're sure, he narrates the proceedings with a level of self-awareness that covers both himself and the movie as a whole). The fact that he knows the virus will serve as a good legal defense, as well as a solid moral justification for himself, suggests that he's pretty much in control of mental faculties. Would he have such thoughts if not for the virus? That's another question.
These observations aren't intended to be raised as a criticism of the movie's setup. No, it's meant to bring up the point that the movie either intentionally or accidentally raises a rather complicated moral conundrum. It has to be unintentional, because at no point does anyone bring up the idea that everyone in the office building is fully aware of what they're doing and why they're doing it.
That's unfortunate, because there is something to these questions and complications, even if the screenplay by Matias Caruso doesn't recognize their potential. Instead, the movie plays out like a twisted revenge fantasy, in which the cutthroat, impersonal nature of corporate culture is assaulted by a guy and a woman who were wronged by its amorality.
The guy, naturally, is Derek, who is framed for messing up an account by a partner known as "the Siren" (Caroline Chikezie)—so nicknamed for the way she has with the firm's boss John Hightower (Steven Brand). After being served his walking papers by the firm's head of HR, known as "the Reaper" (Dallas Roberts), Derek discovers that the building has been quarantined by the CDC. The ID-7 virus has spread throughout the building.
The woman is Melanie Cross (Samara Weaving), whose house is about to be foreclosed upon by a bank represented by the firm. She's in the building to argue her case, but the quarantine begins as she's being escorted out by security. Like Derek, Melanie is infected with the virus and possesses no qualms about working her way up the building, packing an assortment of power tools. If no one will reconsider the decisions that could ruin Derek and Melanie's lives, they'll take the violent path.
The plot, then, is fairly simple: Derek and Melanie have to obtain a series of keycards from the firm's higher-ups to make their way to the penthouse, where Hightower and the firm's board spend their workday in luxury. Hightower has his own goons to stop them. The Reaper and the Siren aren't going to give up their cards without a fight, and everyone in the office building is inclined to fight Derek and Melanie because of the virus. Director Joe Lynch clearly revels in the potential for the setup's unlikely violence. There are fairly elaborate sequences, involving office supplies, Derek and Melanie's arsenal of tools, and pretty much anything else that someone could get their hands on in an office setting.
At a certain point, though, we have to wonder if that's all there is to it. The movie possesses a certain energy that propels the story forward with macabre, cynical humor, but it also becomes repetitive after a few too many jabs—both satirical and physical. Underneath the chaos of Mayhem, though, is that string of questions about the real nature of these characters—whether they are acting on behalf of the virus or simply using the virus as an excuse. The movie doesn't care about that. It mainly cares that some bad people get killed in the process.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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