Eye For Film >> Movies >> Mayhem (2017) Film Review
Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode
Everyone who has worked in a corporate job knows the feeling. All day, every day, you're expected to be civil. Even when the work is infuriatingly dull. Even when you know your skills are being wasted. Even when colleagues or bosses are quite explicit about how much they hate you, or simply don't care about you; and when you see other people bullied on a regular basis. Even when, boiling under the surface, there's an allconsuming rage, and all you really want to do is kill.
Derek (Walking Dead alumnus Steven Yeun) has worked hard to get to where he is. He's practical, polite, focused; he dresses neatly and he keeps his eyes on the end-of-the-month bonus, no matter what he's asked to do. But despite this - or perhaps because of it - he's framed by somebody upstairs who sees him as a convenient scapegoat for failure. Determined not to lose his job, he summons up his courage and declares that he's going to take the matter to the top boss, right at the top of the building. Just as he does so, however, another declaration is made. The building is under quarantine. It is believed to have been infected by a virus that makes people impulsive and highly aggressive. For the eight hours during which they remain infectious, nobody will be allowed out.
As a lawyer, Derek knows there's precedent establishing that a person who commits murder under the influence of this virus cannot be considered culpable. He hooks up with colleague Melanie (Samara Weaving) and they start fighting their way upwards from floor to floor. He wants his job back. She wants revenge.
There are echoes of High Rise in the central idea here, but there's no room for mind games. Frustrations that have been held in check for years are ready to explode. Derek's co-workers go at each other with all manner of office equipment. The cliques which were there at the outset become small militias. The loners once too shy to stand up for themselves seek bloody retribution. Emotions run high; anger, once released, begins to give way to joyous abandon. There's a cute scene with the tech guy whose fury is directed not at humans but at machines, and which many of us will have encountered directly, no virus necessary.
Yeun makes an appealing and personable lead. He's also slight enough that one can feel properly fearful for him during the fight scenes, but not so much so that it's unconvincing when he fights back. The scenes of conflict are well handled; it's actually hard to depict completely untrained, inexperienced people attacking each other in a realistic way, and director Joe Lynch achieves this without ever compromising on the fun of it all. The impact of the virus means that we also see women fight with neither Hollywood limitations nor conventional hang-ups, and with no noticeable disadvantage against the men. Although the virus also excites other passions, there is no sexual violence. First and foremost, the workers see each other as rivals.
Weaving embraces these concepts with gusto, making Melanie a character to be reckoned with. She has great natural chemistry with Yuen, the two actors improvising some of their scenes, which adds to the energy of the film. These are not clear-cut heroes. Not only are they infected themselves, and prone to do morally questionable things, they're also inherently quite ordinary, with endearing personal flaws. Despite the action focus, both leads get room to show what they can do as actors, and the film is stronger for it.
Mayhem could easily have been a one joke film and found itself with nowhere to go. It is a credit to director and cast that it keeps on giving - and for people in jobs like Derek's, delivers a particularly satisfying cinema experience.Reviewed on: 30 Aug 2017