3 out of 5
Directed by: Joe Lynch
Mayhem is a slim – 87 minutes – bit of vicious fantasy, given just enough smarts by Matias Caruso’s script to give his two leads, Derek Cho and Melanie Cross (Stephen Yeun and Samara Weaving, respectfully) plenty to lean in to, allowing the movie to be fun rather than indulgent. Even that runtime proves a bit much, though, and we run out of witty ways around and through the premise after about an hour, leaving room for a bit of straight-forward blood and sex that tips the flick back into something average instead of daring.
Cho is an up and comer at a faceless, big money consulting company, TSC, the nice guy who’s taken shit from his bosses for years to become a moderately powerful guy, still taking shit from his bosses but still being nice. Or moderately nice: he gripes about coffee; he coldly turns down clients who won’t make the firm money – Melanie is victim to this – and he knows which backstabber to go spitting fire at when his name is attached to a project on which he had no part, and over which he’s going to get fired. Forced to pack his box and be ushered out the door, Derek is instead locked in quarantine with the rest of the building when its overtaken by the ID-7 or Red Eye virus, which gives everyone a bloodshot eyeball and removes any hindrances to murder, mayhem, or public indecencies, toward whichever you’re inclined. TSC also happens to be the firm that founded the legal loophole giving people clearance for their crimes during infection.
So take some horrible people, tell them they’re free and clear of blame for their actions for the next few hours, and press play.
And overall, Mayhem does with that what you’d expect, taking potshots at corporate, step-on-the-little-guy culture with bloody glee. But because this isn’t just a zombie virus, rather one that works with your personality, it gives it a bit of drive: Cho wants his job back; Melanie wants a signature that will give her the house back she’ll lose thanks to TSC’s non-deal. They’re thrown together and bond over an enemy-of-my-enemy agreements, but their battle to the top of the tower (with nailguns, saws, matches, hammers, etc.) has them find more common ground to bond over. Mayhem really scores, though, when Cho and and Cross are allowed to combine some brains with their animosity, which is then countered by their bosses’ already baked in (and now enhanced) abilities to make deals with the devil at the blink of an eye; instead of just taking the kneecaps out of ‘the man,’ the movie manages to comment on how this frenzied version of events pretty much just parallels the regular-day versions. Tight shooting and editing and solid performances from Yeun and Weaving keep it all in check as a balanced, darkly funny satire.
Until, as mentioned, it runs out of ideas and just puts its head down and barrels through. This isn’t a hard shift, there’s just a point where you realize the movie has no more clever scenarios to work through and is just building up to some showdowns. But by the same token, because it isn’t a hard shift, it doesn’t ruin the flick: I had a good time the whole way through, but had their been a way to further the satire, Mayhem had the possibility of being something of a classic.