Joe Lynch has had an interesting career thus far. The man most well-known among genre fans for being the other guy on super-popular podcast The Movie Crypt alongside longtime buddy Adam Green, and for starring in Green’s TV sitcom Holliston, is a prolific and demonstrably talented filmmaker without a real hit to his name. Wrong Turn 2 did the job well enough, Knights Of Badassdom was such a mess even Lynch wanted to distance himself from it and Everly was savaged by critics and star Salma Hayek alike.
Now we have Mayhem, Lynch’s much-hyped worksploitation (his word) action-horror movie that’s been (un)fairly (depending on your preference) compared to The Belko Experiment, which dropped first and quickly disappeared. Taken from a script by Matias Caruso, here making his feature debut, the flick should finally elevate Lynch to a higher spot at the table, alongside Green and others of his ilk, as he deserves. It’s smart, funny, gory as hell and boasts the best horror movie odd couple in recent memory.
The setup is simple enough; a new virus, commonly referred to as The Red Eye virus, is running rampant in the States, taking away sufferers’ inhibitions and reducing them to slavering, wild loons. A thrilling, and inventively-shot, opening sequence sees various people fucking, fighting and screeching while protagonist Derek’s (Steven Yeun, of The Walking Dead) earnest voice-over explains the current situation. Classic monochrome is blasted out by the deep red of victims’ eyes. It’s a striking introduction.
We then join a newly corporatized Derek on what will soon be his last day on the job, at a viciously competitive law firm, as a ruthless higher-up gets him fired essentially to save her own skin. Meanwhile, an intrepid young woman (Ash Vs. The Evil Dead‘s Samara Weaving) fights for the right to save her home from cash-grabbing vultures who have already served a notice to quit. As the virus runs rampant, a quarantine is called and the two find themselves stuck in the building and vying for revenge.
Lynch was working a corporate job when he first read the script for Mayhem, and his real-world connection to the material is evident in every slick, stylishly-assembled frame. From the bloody violence to the hilariously on-the-nose workplace scraps and annoyingly realistic ticks of various employees (“Wednesdays” one intones, after elevator doors open to reveal a floor filled with absolute chaos), it’s clear the director has a certain amount of vitriol to aim at the corporate world.
Caruso’s script crackles, particularly in its skewering of an already-established precedent for murder while infected, which feels dangerously true to lift in our Trumpian world. An exchange (improvised, and then added to the script, according to Lynch) which sees Derek and Weaving’s Melanie discuss their favourite bands is a standout, but there are tons of instantly quotable lines sprinkled throughout. Weaving delivers most of them as a firecracker, among a cast of women who, refreshingly, do just as much damage as the men, maybe more.
Watch as she struts, covered in blood, nail gun in hand and spits “move aside, pussies” at a group of cowering gents. When she tears off her sensible blouse to reveal a torn-up band shirt underneath and tosses aside her stilettos for a pair of (stolen) comfy sneakers, it’s a triumphant, empowering moment. Derek may ostensibly be the protagonist, but Melanie is the star of the show. She commands attention in every scene she’s in, her big eyes shining with delight as she causes as much destruction as possible.
Yeun, too, is well-cast, his cutesy good-guy looks giving way to a fiery anger that makes his own eyes bug out as he clenches his fists. It’s a performance that’s worlds away from Glenn and spells great things for the actor as a leading man. The two make a brilliant double act, and it’s easy to root for them even as the violence intensifies and the moral lines become increasingly blurred. Still, the real villains are never unclear, quite literally hanging out at the top of the building like final bosses in a video-game.
Mayhem is an absolute joy, not least because it finally, and definitively, marks Joe Lynch out as the filmmaker we always knew he was. Dynamic, fast-paced and hugely engaging, it’s infinitely better than the confused, try-hard excesses of Belko. Super-gory, hella funny and with a razor sharp satirical edge, it also manages to squeeze in a message about the corporate world ruining our creativity that, had Lynch not introduced the film and said exactly that, one could easily imagine him doing so.
WICKED RATING: 9/10
Director(s): Joe Lynch
Writer(s): Matias Caruso
Stars: Steven Yeun, Samara Weaving, Steven Brand, Caroline Chikezie
Studio/ Production Co: Circle Of Confusion
Length: 86 minutes