MAYHEM: Hilarious & Horrifying Socially Salient Satire
[Published at Film Inquiry] Mayhem is, first and foremost, an absolute blast from start to finish. Director Joe Lynch and screenwriter Matias Caruso team up to craft this farcical tale of corporate corruption. Mayhem is a workplace satire by way of The Belko Experiment with a slightly more playful tone. Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving give two infectious lead performances as the unlikely protagonists of the story, faring their way through the disgruntled workforce, exposed to a virus called “ID-7,” or, “The Red Eye Virus,” which brings out the worst in people by attacking their id and disrupting the balance between emotion and reason.
Yeun’s Derek and Weaving’s Melanie face external and internal demons, exposed to violence, rage, and debauchery along the way, to expose the their bosses’ corruption, bring justice to themselves and the company, and get out of the office alive. Mayhem doesn’t cover significant new ground in the corporate satire genre, but it is a rather unique hybridization of genres that is likely to have the viewer laugh and cheer as much as they sneer.
Affecting Attention To Detail
Immediately, Lynch establishes an attention to detail with an introduction of the aria, “Overture To La Gazza Ladra” (The Thieving Magpie) by Gioachino Rossini. The opera’s themes reflect those of Mayhem‘s; the comparison between the opera’s detestable mayor and the film’s corporate thieves epitomizes greed and lust. The tune has been famously used in Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange, yet Lynch justifiably uses it for depth as well as to set the offsetting comedic tone of the film.
Caruso includes his fair share of freewheeling dialogue in Mayhem’s script, but not to the detriment of the film. Typically, the multitude of character introductions around the office would seem superfluous, but it provides all the more entertainment for the audience. Recurring crude variations of lines such as, “File it under ‘n’ for not my problem” actually prove effective. Other crass one-liners fall flat occasionally, but mostly land in large part due to the commitment of the actors to the farcical and fun vision. Caruso and Lynch pack the film with references to previous horror films and comedies; there’s even a surprisingly fun reference to Half Baked.
Steve Moore composes an 80s futuristic crime thriller-esque soundtrack that works with Mayhem’s tone, feeding off of the abundance of technology within the workforce. The score helps separate the hyperreality on the inside, exposed to The Red Eye Virus, from the unexposed reality on the outside. It has a pulsating rhythm that imitates what the id would sound like if it could speak, intensifying as the virus enhances. With Italian opera, 80s film scoring, a multitude of references, and dialogue that doesn’t seem to fit into one genre, one would think that Mayhemisn’t greater than the sum of its parts on paper, but it is indeed thanks to every department’s adherence to a unified vision. Yeun’s enthusiastic narration also provides a much-needed cohesion to the story.
Mayhem’s Two Leads Shine
In Mayhem, Yeun and Weaving make a perfect duo to take down corporate greed. Again, The Red Eye Virus serves as an allegory for the human id, in Freudian terminology, or that which is most closely related to desire and impulse, and thus the least easiest for people to control who are exposed to drugs that lower inhibitions. The plot centers around a mysterious file that hinders upon both the company’s ethical survival and Weaving’sMelanie’s and Yeun’s Derek’s financial well-being, and, ultimately, human survival.
Yeun is used to playing a subdued, calm, and rational person as Glenn on The Walking Dead; after six years, it’s rather refreshing to see him break away from that character type and play something opposite. Derek is a regular guy, just trying to get by, pay off his student debt, and live the American dream. He becomes engulfed in the atmosphere of his work environment and his ethical standards lower slightly, showing that nobody is immune to corruption. However, when the virus hits, Yeun gives Derek a seismic transformation; he clearly has fun with holding nothing back and letting every emotion that escapes him run wild.
Weaving matches Yeun’s intensity with wit and a fervent calmness in an otherwise insane situation. Similarly to her recent turn in The Babysitter, Weaving provides Melanie with an air of all-knowingness about her in a way that offsets Derek’s quarter life crisis mentality. Their banter and back and forth is palpable, and together, they climb the corporate hierarchy structural ladder all the way to the board of directors. Early references to ancient gladiatorial customs set the stage, so to speak, for some sizably bloody set pieces.
Conclusion: A Bloody Good Time
Mayhem offers a lot of familiar gore seen in this type of genre fare as well as some new thrills for its audience. Despite a budget that likely pales in comparison to most of this year’s summer blockbusters, the fight scenes are incredibly shot and made with impressive effects. Mayhem is a culmination of film, art, historical and current affairs references, genre juxtapositions, and effective stylized filmmaking.
Caruso and Lynch even manage slip in some twists, moments of profundity, and a simple message beneath all of the carnage: follow your passion. One shouldn’t miss Mayhem‘s explosive climax, which brings every conflict to a head and a swift resolution. It’s particularly satisfying seeing Yeun make the leap from television to movie theaters so successfully. Viewers can undoubtedly expect more from its two stars, Weaving and Yeun, on the silver screen.
Do you enjoy workplace comedies? Which is your favorite?
Mayhem is released in the U.S. on November 10. For all release dates, click here.