There’s no denying that Glenn is one of the most popular characters in the entire run to-date of The Walking Dead. His death was a jump-the-shark moment for many with our final image of him being soaked in blood while nearly losing his eye. However, if there is a positive to take from the event, it did leave actor Steven Yeun the opportunity to spread his wings. In Mayhem, we get to see him play Derek the attorney…a man who ends up blood soaked by the end of the film with an obviously swollen left eye. Coincidence?
Last year, The Belko Experiment told the tale of a group of office workers locked inside a building while a Saw-like game is played out with bloody results. Now, a year later, Mayhem tells a similar tale but without the Saw elements. Instead, our story is wrapped around a mysterious virus that causes it’s victims to lose all inhibitions for eight hours. Violence and sex reign down in fury, especially in an office where the workers are miserable and management is as corrupt as they come. Where’s Dwight for comedic relief when you need him?
Enter Steven Yeun as Derek, a dedicated lawyer who can be ruthless, albeit reluctantly, as witnessed in the beginning towards young Melanie Cross (Samara Weaving, The Babysitter, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri), a woman who simply wants to keep her house out of foreclosure. Despite doing the company’s bidding and not helping her, it’s evident that Derek is walking a thin line towards a breakdown as he rages about a missing coffee cup and hangs up on his sister saying he doesn’t have the time to talk to her.
Meanwhile, Derek tells us via narration, that there is a virus plaguing the United States, infecting people and taking away their inhibitions, often resulting in heinous acts being committed by the victims. The government has a cure but is using it only when a breakout occurs. Of course, the virus is loose in the office just as Derek has a confrontation with a co-worker (Caroline Chikezie) who has set him up to be fired to cover her own mistakes. His boss, cokehead John Towers (Steven Brand), has no problem letting Derek take the fall. As Derek is being shown the door, SWAT arrives and the building is quarantined for 8 hours. The virus has been detected and the cure is being administered. Unfortunately, Derek can’t leave, so he sets down a bloody path of redemption to prove his innocence.
Of course, Derek is paired up with Melanie, who didn’t get out of the building either, and the two make for a formidable pair while the office is a non-stop battle royale of violence and sex. They make for a nice team but here is where one of the key weaknesses of the film deters the viewer from engaging into the story as fully as they could. Personally, I don’t think Steven Yeun is a strong leading man. He’s a great supporting character and is certainly right for the role, just not as the main star of the film. It just never quite works for me as I sometimes felt he was sleepwalking his way through the film. The support cast helps as much as they can but it always feels as if the cast could have gone a step or two further into the mayhem. Instead, they tend to play it safe performance wise.
Mayhem never crosses the line into being too excessively violent, guidelines from which The Belko Experiment could have benefitted. However, as the film is clearly not to be taken too seriously, I would have liked to see some of the characters act a little more consistently over-the-top. I also hated the overused and cliché virus plot device. It came across as “been there, done that” and the concept could have been told in a more original way.
I enjoyed Mayhem for what it offered. It’s a fun but too-safe 90-minute romp. However, I should note that I saw this film alone at home and director Joe Lynch has stated Mayhem is best seen in a theater with an audience of like-minded individuals. I agree that my experience could have been enhanced in a different environment but a film should also be able to stand on its’ own without audience participation and, in that regard, Mayhem comes off as a little shaky at times.