Joe Lynch’s Mayhem is the type of film that defies categorization, a chameleon-like endeavor that morphs at every turn. At times it all feels vaguely familiar and something from the horror genre; then we’re watching a satire on violence and the workplace; while at other moments we’re witnessing a straight-up action flick. Whatever Mayhem may be, one thing is for sure: there is never a dull moment.
Derek Cho (played by The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun), unbeknownst to him, is about to walk into a ticking time bomb at his law firm. First off, he’s fired at the onset of the film. And to make matters worse he’s being set up by his bosses through a lingering case that the firm is desperate to pin on someone to avoid legal repercussions. Meanwhile, a virus that turns its hosts into raging maniacs that act out violent and sexual impulses is making the rounds in the complex. The infected are identified by a red eye (think of it as a real bad case of pink eye with gnarly and violent side effects) and not a single person is spared the illness.
As the office building is shut down and put into an eight hour quarantine Derek not only has to get his job back and figure out a way out of being framed, but he must also survive the mayhem that’s in store at the turn of every corridor and on every floor. Derek partners up with an unlikely ally, a disgruntled former client, Melanie Cross (Samara Weaving), as the two literally climb up the corporate food chain to face off with the big boss and the Nine (board of directors) to salvage whatever Derek can from a terrible situation.
A satirical look at the dog eat dog world of corporate dealings and bureaucracy, Mayhem makes promise on its title delivering plenty of carnage, comedy, and bloody action in a Dante-esque journey through hell. The film’s simple premise is accentuated by Lynch’s in-your-face direction, which is cool, confident, and unrelenting.The film is desperate to be liked, swaying the audience with slick visuals, crazy action, thrills to boot, and plenty of blood. Despite its fun and bloody demeanor Mayhem never undermines its story (written by Matias Caruso) with cheap thrills, in fact, both co-exist beautifully with the action and violence working in tandem with the film’s plot.
Yeun, our anti-hero caught in an outlandish predicament, blurs the film lines between good and evil. Although he has fallen victim to his career, the virus dynamic makes for an interesting experiment in perspectives. Derek is clearly up to no good, yet his motivations for righting a wrong seem admirable despite the violent manner in which they are executed. On the one hand we want to cheer for Derek and his sidekick, but things are complicated when their actions are less than moral. Newcomer Weaving (also from Netflix’s The Babysitter) is destined to be a star with a charming and outlandish performance adding a dash of demented humor as her character trudges through the muck alongside Derek.
Mayhem is one of the best flicks of the year. It plays and bends with genres with such ease and attitude that it never feels overtly expressive nor far-reaching; this one should not be missed.
Released by RLJE Films, Mayhem is out now (as of December 26) on DVD, Blu-ray, and Ultra High-Definition 4K Blu-ray Combo. The DVD includes audio commentary with the director, cinematographer Steve Gainer and Editor Josh Ethier and a look at the making of the film titled “Creating Mayhem: The Making of the Film.