If there was ever a work of fiction to be described as simply “awesome”, it would be this movie: a horror-comedy with an introspective look at the cut-throat nature of humankind. On the surface ‘Mayhem’ is just a fun movie, but there are some layers of brutal honesty in how we treat each other that are brought to the forefront and are presented in a relatable manner: whether you’ve been fucked over or the person to fuck another over, you’ll likely relate to an aspect of this film.
In the aftermath of a viral contagion in which those who are affected by the ID-7 virus, also known as the Red Eye virus, lose all inhibitions and morality – leading to extreme violence, heightened sex drives, and increases of emotional distress – we’re introduced to Derek Cho (Steven Yeun), a rising lawyer at the Towers and Smythe Consulting firm who got a big promotion after discovering a loophole that cleared one of the previously infected for Murder. Derek’s seemingly normal day is about to get very messy and chaotic, though: after learning that he’s being set-up to take the fall for a higher-up colleague’s mistake, he’s fired. He tries to fight this by refusing to accept responsibility for the error, but unfortunately for him, the woman setting him up, Kara “The Siren” Powell (Caroline Chikezie), has the ear of the boss, John Towers (Steven Brand), and it seems the decision has already been settled. It just so happens that as all of this is going on, the ID-7 virus has spread inside the building and is quickly detected by the CDC, who quarantine the building while they pump the antidote through the ventilation system, which will take 8 hours to eliminate the virus. Until then, everyone must stay inside the building, including the recently unemployed Derek, and his unlikely ally, Melanie Cross (Samara Weaving), a woman whom he had escorted out by security earlier after she posed as a lawyer in an effort to save her home from foreclosure. Both, clearly infected with the virus, agree to work together to fight their way to the top floor to present their grievances to the board members, also known as “The Nine”. Knowing the precedent set by Derek’s loophole, in which a person infected with the virus can’t be held legally responsible for his or her actions, Towers sends anyone and everyone at his disposal down to stop Derek and Melanie by any means necessary.
I may not be a gamer (primarily because I suck at them, and secondarily because I’m a poor-sport) but I think this is a brilliant live-action video game movie that’s not actually based on a video game, and I love it for that. Derek and Melanie must start in the basement level and fight their way to the top floor to get to the main boss, and they can only advance after defeating specific threats, each of which increase the difficulty level for our protagonists, and each with different positions and code-names as well. This video game structure totally works in this films favor.
That said, let’s get into the collection of things that really makes this movie a high recommendation from me. I can’t look at one specific thing to highlight as what makes this movie work so well because there’s a combination of talent whose contributions to this film work in harmony with each other, making it extremely entertaining. The over-used phrase “firing on all cylinders” springs to mind with this movie, and I think that’s accurate.
A big selling point to this movie is the characters and the acting. Steven Yuen and Samara Weaving are so much fun in this movie, and they’re given so many great things to do and say. Steven Yuen gives a really solid performance, starting off as a nice guy with a little fight in him and evolving to a nice guy with a lot of fight in him, and he’s particularly good in the moment where the virus takes effect and the switch is flipped. It should come to no surprise to anybody that Samara Weaving excels at playing crazy and tough, and she has some really great moments through-out. The supporting cast are also equally fun here: Steven Brand is hilarious as the cocaine-fueled businessman, John “The Boss” Towers, who only mourns for deceased employees because of the cost of replacing them; Caroline Chikezie is very convincing as the self-preserving snake, Kara “The Siren” Powell, who serves as the catalyst for Derek’s journey; and Dallas Roberts is good as the cold and ruthless head of Human Resources, Lester “The Reaper” McGill.
But we can’t give all of the credit to the actors here, as the script from Matias Caruso and the direction from Joe Lynch are perfectly cynical and unapologetic in execution. On the writing side, the characters have personalities and nearly everyone in this movie has a bit of a feistiness to them, and the dialogue has some sharp wit that is enhanced with the performances. The story itself is fun and inventive, and perfectly balances the line between horror and comedy. On the directing side, Joe Lynch perfectly captures the script’s snarky strengths and equally brings the depraved humor out visually. Also, the sequences of violence are well choreographed and are equal parts brutal and hilarious at the same time, and with all of these factors combined, I can’t help but smile every time I watch this movie.
‘Mayhem’ is a brutal, kick-ass, and highly entertaining thrill ride with an attitude, and I love it for that.
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