SXSW 2017 – Mayhem (2017)


A virus has broken out reducing inhibitions and turning people into emotionally unbalanced (and frequently violent) lunatics. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before right? Mayhem isn’t flat out dystopia, wisely choosing the path of claustrophobic chamber piece over full on apocalypse. It doesn’t work all that well, but Joe Lynch’s genre diversion packs in enough entertainment to keep things ticking over.

In this world, the virus has been contained, just about, and the US Government hopes everything will be hunky dory by the end of the year. But outbreaks do still happen, otherwise we wouldn’t have a film. And in this instance, it’s a ruthless law firm that succumbs, the SWAT team arriving swiftly to quarantine everyone for eight hours while they wait for the anti-virus to neutralise the situation.

Inside we have Steven Yeun’s Derek Cho trying in vain to save his job after a senior member of staff shafts him. He must turn to Melanie (Samara Weaving), a young woman he refused to help only a little while before after she came to him to save her family home. With everyone, including our heroes, in the grip of the virus, a bloody march up through the floors to the executive office takes place. And it’s all legal after Derek himself set a precedent by getting a guy off a murder rap while under the influence of the virus.

For a while, Mayhem is a fun exercise in revenge. Armed with random tools – from nail guns to hammers and screwdrivers – Derek and Melanie escalate their mission, delivering putdowns and smack downs to any idiot willing to get in their way. But it never changes, and the succession of higher-ups requiring punishment lead to diminishing returns.

The attempt to deliver it all with tongue firmly in cheek isn’t all that successful either. The cast do a decent job hamming it up, particularly Steven Brand and Caroline Chikezie, but the humour is too broad and too imprecise to offer much amusement. With everyone a thinly drawn caricature, more time in their presence only leads to them grating. Yeun does his best of course, and he is an engaging actor. He gets a few nice exchanges with Weaving who is sparky but hamstrung in a role that builds too heavily towards romance.

By the time they reach their final destination, energy has drained away. It doesn’t really matter what happens to anyone, or at least it’s hard to care. Mayhem isn’t inventive enough to sustain its running time. What it lacks, ironically, is mayhem.

Director: Joe Lynch
Writer: Matias Caruso
Stars: Steven Yeun, Samara Weaving, Steven Brand
Runtime: 86 mins
Country: USA

Film Rating: ★★☆☆☆

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