Mean, savage, and hilarious at every point, “Mayhem” is willing to go all the way for making you cringe and then laugh for its literally brutal horror satire on corporate culture. You may be bothered by its remorselessly graphic depiction of violence, but then you will also be amused by its loony moments of edgy satire, and you will probably come to enjoy considerable humor and energy packed inside this very violent comedy action film.
At first, the movie opens with a rather miserable situation of its young hero. When he started to work in some prestigious consulting firm, Derek (Steven Yeun) was full of ambition and confidence as hoping to be an executive of the firm someday, and it looks like everything has been fine for him because he has steadily climbed up the corporate ladder step by step, but, as he tells us via his sarcastic opening narration, he is not that happy as still being an expendable corporate lackey just like many others in the firm.
And then something disastrous happens. Not long after he flatly rejects a sincere plea from a lawyer named Melanie (Samara Weaving) during their meeting on the imminent foreclosure on some real estate property, Derek is notified of a serious problem involved with one of the biggest clients of the company, and it soon becomes apparent that he is going to be a scapegoat as demanded by John Towers (Steven Brand), the arrogant and merciless CEO of the company. Derek tries to avoid this circumstance as much as he can, but, alas, his fate is already sealed, and he is soon visited by the grim director of human resource department, who is ready to take care of Derek as soon as possible along with a couple of security guards.
However, right before Derek is taken out of the company building, a bunch of SWAT guys and medical experts suddenly arrive, and then they immediately quarantine the whole building for the outbreak of a very contagious virus in the building. Although it does not kill the infected, the virus in question makes the infected very impulsive and violent, and, not so surprisingly, pandemonium soon reigns inside the building as numerous infected people throw themselves into their irresistible impulses.
While he is shaken and rattled by bulging impulses inside him just like many others, Derek comes to have an idea about how he going to utilize this extremely dangerous circumstance for himself. As told to us during the opening scene of the movie, it was ruled during a famous trial that the infected do not take any responsibility for whatever they committed due to their uncontrollable mental state, and that means Derek can get away with killing Towers. Before the police get the situation under control 8 hours later, he must go up to the top floor of the building and then confront Towers, and Melanie, who also happens to be stuck inside the building, is willing to help Derek because, well, she is as mad about the company and Towers as him.
After fully equipped with various hardware tools they luckily acquire from a basement room, Derek and Melanie hurl themselves into a series of violent moments not so far from “The Raid: Redemption” (2011). The closer they get to the top floor of the building, the more violent they have to be as fighting with many obstacles on their way, and the movie gives us plenty of violence to jolt and shock us. At one point, we see our characters ruthlessly shooting nails to their latest opponent, and then we are served with a cringe-inducing moment involved with a pair of scissors and a certain sharp hardware tool.
The main reason why I could tolerate these violent moments more than “The Raid: Redemption” is that the movie puts not only humor but also context into them. Whenever we think it goes too far with violence, it always amuses us with nice satiric moments, and it also makes sharp points on that cutthroat aspect of corporate environment as cheerfully depicting how willingly its corporate characters go further as driven by each own irresistible impulse.
Of course, the screenplay by Matias Caruso throws lots of barbed jokes at Towers and his board members, who do not look that different even while being clearly infected. While Towers becomes enraged and uninhibited more and more, those board members remain surprisingly calm and collected as your typical corporate humanoids, and one of the funniest moments in the movie comes from how spineless they turn out to be.
Playing straight even when things get more absurd and violent for their characters, the main cast members of the movie are all effective in their comic performance. Steven Yeun, who recently became more notable thanks to his supporting turn in TV series “The Walking Dead”, shows here that he is an engaging performer to watch, and he and his co-performer Samara Weaving are constantly amusing as accidental killing partners. As the chief villain of the movie, Steven Brand delightfully chews every scene of his, and Caroline Chikezie, Kerry Fox, and Dallas Roberts are suitably despicable in their respective supporting roles.
“Mayhem” is basically a one-joke film, but its director Joe Lynch, who is incidentally not related to David Lynch, maintains well its narrative momentum during its short running time (87 minutes), and he did a good job of balancing his film well between black humor and extreme violence. The movie is surely not for everyone, but you may enjoy it if you can appreciate its bloody and vicious sense of humor like me, so I recommend it to you with some caution. Just please don’t tell me that I did not warn you.