If you ever worked in an office, then you know that feeling: Sitting at a desk, closed off in a cubicle, realizing you’re wasting your life for a company that doesn’t care about you and that you’ve become everything you hated as a teenager. The only thing that gets you through the day is the fantasy of stabbing a pen into the jugular of your boss when he asks you to come in on Saturday. But you know acting on that urge will likely get you fired and land you behind bars. Well, the good news is, you’re not alone. Everyone else in your office is probably feeling the same way. Then along comes a movie like Mayhem that asks the question: what if you could kill your superiors and get away with it?
Mayhem opens with Rossini’s “The Thieving Magpie,” which you might recognize from a Clockwork Orange, thus preparing the viewer for a bit of the ol’ ultraviolence. We are introduced to the ID-7 Virus, more commonly known as the Red Eye Virus. It’s not your typical zombie virus. The infected remain articulate and functional, yet in their brain, the balance of id and ego is thrown off and all moral inhibitions are eradicated. The effect is demonstrated in a slow-motion sequence of a boardroom brawl. Everything is in black and white, except for the the red in the coworkers’ eyes and blood spewing out of their mouths. Among the brawlers is Nevil Reed, who, in the aftermath, was acquitted of all charges for murdering his boss, thanks to the court ruling that those infected are not criminally responsible for their actions.
The defence is thanks to the Towers & Smythe Consulting law firm, where our hero, Derek Cho (played by Steven Yeun of the Walking Dead) works as a legal analyst. We see a fresh-faced Derek enter the elevator on his first day. Cut to Derek six months later in the same elevator, dead inside. Then six months after that. With each cut, we see Derek in the elevator slowly adjusting to his soul-crushing job, progressively becoming more confident and wearing fancier suits. A smart way of showing the passage of time. The day starts off like any other day, until Derek finds out about a bombshell case, where one of the firm’s loyal clients stand to lose millions over a filing error. Derek is set up to take the fall, even if he has never touched the case. He attempts to save his job by pleading to the head of the company, John Towers (Steven Brand), also known as “the Boss.”
Like Towers, many of Derek’s superiors have nicknames based on their awful personalities and job titles. In his free time, Derek has painted portraits of each of them, depicting them in mythical settings. First, there’s “the Siren” (Caroline Chikezie), who always has the Boss’ ear and twists the truth to her advantage. Then there’s “the Reaper” (Dallas Roberts), in charge of personally discharging personnel. And at the very top, sit “the Nine,” the board of directors who make decisions as if they’re spectators in a gladiatorial coliseum. These monsters have gotten to where they are by being heartless and gladly stepping on anybody’s head to climb higher.
Derek in unable to convince anyone that he’s not at fault. Instead, he’s told to pack up his desk and leave the premises. But as he is about to be escorted out, the building is locked down and quarantined because of a detected outbreak of the ID-7 Virus. Everyone inside is infected and no one is allowed out for eight hours until the airborne immunization process is complete. TSC was already hostile and morally bankrupt to begin with, but all it needed was a little push over the edge for it to erupt into chaos. Employees strip off their clothes, throw papers across the room and punch their nearest co-worker.
Derek decides this is the perfect opportunity to ask the Nine for his job back, and thanks to the precedent in court, he will not be held criminally responsible if he is forced to use violence. But in order to reach the top floor, he needs key card clearance from the Reaper and the Siren. He forms an unlikely alliance with Melanie Cross (Samara Weaving), who was only in the building to unsuccessfully stop her family home from being foreclosed by the firm. Like Derek, Melanie wants blood for being wronged. Together, they arm themselves with an arsenal of wrenches, screwdrivers and a nail gun, and work their way up the corporate ladder while racing against the clock, killing anyone who stands in their path. It’s almost like a video game.
The fight scenes are intense and will have you on the edge of your seat. It doesn’t matter if you don’t understand half of the legal mumbo-jumbo, because there’s close to a solid hour of non-stop adrenaline-pumping action. Derek and Melanie are dealt a fair share of a beat down with every new encounter, yet somehow manage to come out the other end alive. By the halfway point, their office attire is completely soaked in blood, and they become more sadistic in their methods.
Mayhem will appeal to music fans as well, especially metalheads. In a scene written by director Joe Lynch himself, Derek asks Melanie what her top three bands are. Melanie confesses her love for thrash metal (Motorhead, DRI and Anthrax), but when she reverses the question to Derek, she ridicules him for liking Dave Matthews Band. Their different tastes in music makes for some great comedic dialogue. The soundtrack also includes songs by Faith No More and Rivers of Nihil, perfect for scenes of carnage.
In many interviews, Lynch says he cast Steven Yeun in the main role for his ability to play an everyman, and that race didn’t concern him. However, on Lynch’s podcast the Movie Crypt, Yeun said he feels that Derek Cho being Asian-American added an extra layer to the office environment, that institutional racism lurked just beneath the surface and that it made sense that he was made a scapegoat for someone else’s mistake. Both Yeun and Weaving prove that they can play all emotional extremes, from cool and collected to psychotic and unhinged.
This is the kind of movie to be enjoyed among friends with a few beers after a long day of working in corporate hell. If you’re not able to watch it in theaters, then I recommend renting or buying it on iTunes, or look for its release on Shudder. If you have been one to fantasize about massacring your workplace, Mayhem will give you the catharsis without the jail time.