'Mayhem': Film Review

A nasty diversion for violence-hungry auds awaiting the next great horror-comedy.

Steven Yeun ('The Walking Dead') navigates a life-or-death workplace in Joe Lynch's bloody action-comedy.

Providing just enough of a twist on the workplace-bloodbath concept to justify its addition to the micro-genre, Joe Lynch's Mayhem goes to a hive of "corporate scumbags" and sets them against each other. This time, the cause is a virus whose horrific effects will soon be quashed by an aerosolized antidote — but until that time, workplace backstabbing is about to get literal. A lead performance by Walking Dead favorite Steven Yeun should help draw attention to this nasty little pic, which will likely fare better on small scenes than in theaters.

Yeun plays Derek Cho, a onetime innocent who sold his soul off bit by bit to climb the ladder at an amoral consulting firm. Along the way, he helped the company craft a legal means of murder: A new virus called ID7, a.k.a. the Red Eye virus (since the infected have red eyes), attacks inhibitions and frees the id, making its victims act on every carnal or violent impulse; after a recent outbreak, Cho and colleagues established precedent that made it impossible to prosecute violent crimes committed under ID7's influence.

Now the virus has come to Derek's workplace. The CDC has quarantined the company's headquarters building, trapping everyone inside for the eight hours it will take for an airborne cure to take full effect. That's awkward for Derek, who was fired just minutes before the doors locked — framed by a co-worker nicknamed The Siren (Caroline Chikezie) to take the blame for her own money-losing mistake. The worst time to inhale a lungful of rage-enhancing virus is when you have legitimate reasons to want to murder your superiors.

There are obstacles to a full-scale mutiny from Cho and his co-workers, though: The board of directors ("The Nine") are sequestered on the building's top floor, accessible only by a key card. Fortunately, one of the few non-exec holders of such a card is The Siren, which gives Cho even more reason to torment her.

He teams up with Melanie Cross (Samara Weaving), a non-employee who was only in the building trying to find out how to avoid a foreclosure brought on by the firm's shady practices. By all rights, the ID7-infected Melanie should kill Derek on sight: Just before the outbreak, he's the one who essentially told her she was screwed. But Matias Caruso's script breaks its own rules from the start, giving Derek and Melanie enough self-control to delay immediate gratification and make long-term plans. They set out to force The Siren to give them the key, believing they can talk The Nine into doing the right thing. Does anybody in the audience think things will play out this way?

Though it's not particularly inventive, the film has a fine time pitting the office dwellers against each other. The nail gun Melanie finds in a basement tool closet helps substantially in this department. Watching via security cameras and getting increasingly sweaty, the execs in the penthouse provide a craven counterpoint to the nothing-to-lose boldness below. While the background action sometimes fails to live up to the movie's name — there seems to be a lot of just throwing trash in the air — a more realistic handling of the scenario might not have given Yeun and Weaving any space to enjoy the modest chemistry between them.

A lightly winking tone and the treatment of characters as archetypes (in addition to The Siren, we have The Bull, The Reaper, etc.) encourage viewers to see this dark capitalist temple as interchangeable with those we may inhabit ourselves. Here's hoping audiences aren't too literal-minded about taking Mayhem's lessons to heart.

Production companies: Circle of Confusion, Royal Viking Entertainment
Distributor: RLJ Entertainment
Cast: Steven Yeun, Samara Weaving, Steven Brand, Caroline Chikezie, Kerry Fox, Dallas Roberts
Director: Joe Lynch
Screenwriter: Matias Caruso
Producers: Parisa Caviani, Mehrdad Elie, Lawrence Mattis, Matt Smith, Sean Sorensen
Executive producer: Buddy Enright
Director of photography: Steve Gainer
Production designer: Mina Buric
Costume designer: Momirka Bailovic
Editor: Josh Ethier
Composer: Steve Moore
Casting director: J.C. Cantu

Rated R, 87 minutes