Derek Cho (Steven Yeun, “The Walking Dead”) is having a really bad day. After being unjustly fired from his job, he discovers that the law firm’s building is under quarantine for a mysterious and dangerous virus. Chaos erupts throughout the office as the victims of the disease begin acting out their wildest impulses. Joining forces with a former client (Samara Weaving, “Ash vs Evil Dead”) who has a grudge of her own, Derek savagely fights tooth and nail to get to the executives on the top floor and settle the score once and for all.
Setting aside some minor similarities to last year's The Belko Experiment, Joe Lynch takes a crack at corporate America in Mayhem, a fairly standard genre piece that ultimately collapses beneath the weight of its own self-awareness. The story of an office building under quarantine instantly becomes predictable within a few minutes of seeing Steven Yeun (of The Walking Dead fame) mistreated by his superiors. Yeun provides a voice-over in the opening shots of a violently-chaotic business meeting, explaining the virus removes social inhibitions and makes victims give in to their socially-repressed desires. And apparently, this can be anything from sexual perversions and violent tendencies to simply being tyrannical bullies, as in your mean boss is now an even worse, horrible boss. And for the most part, Lynch and his team bask in the concept of seeing stiff, uptight suits turn absolutely bonkers and into bloodthirsty savages, though ironically, much of the brutal gore and so-called sadistic frenzy is incredibly restrained and implied off-screen.
Quickly undermining the fun, however, the narration also establishes an easy out from its own premise: the crimes committed by the infected are not punishable in federal court — something having to do with a person not in the right state of mind or some such nonsense. Sure, this convenient pretext makes it easier to justify our hero's horrible actions. But Yeun's whipping-boy Derek being set up as the scapegoat to the legally questionable activities of the higher-ups (Caroline Chikezie and Steven Brand) is plenty to win sympathies and enjoy his murderous rampage to the top executive floor. The escape from any wrongdoing, frankly, feels like a dodge, as though the filmmakers want to revel in the idea but not fully embrace or commit to it, which ultimately weakens the fun and robs the audience of any surprises. What's the point of seeing a wish-fulfillment play out without repercussions or a feeling of achievement, especially when the main protagonist is made out to be the every-man frustratingly denied the American dream by the elite?
Then again, Yeun's Derek has always strived to be part of the elite. Or, at least, that's what we are told during the opening elevator montage where his change in office attire not only symbolizes his rise in economic stature but also his metamorphoses from kindly schlump to cold, heartless prick. We are given a taste of his malicious, despicable ways when denying Melanie Cross (Samara Weaving of Netflix's far-better comedy-horror The Babysitter) an extension on paying her mortgage. Basically, this is a tale of both retribution and personal redemption when the two join forces in a bloody combat for the elevator key pass. As the average Jane, Melanie has more of a stake in this battle, seizing on the opportunity to retaliate against the one percenters. She's also a more likable character not only because she's a metalhead with a nail gun but also because as far as we can gather, she's always been a hot-tempered badass. The rage disease has only increased her level of angst towards the capitalist system into an unstoppable wrath.
Cynical as my take on the movie may be, I admit Lynch's Mayhem is a playful frolicking romp that plays decently well to our collective fantasy of seeing the rich presented with their much-earned comeuppance. However, Lynch and his team are much too aware of the plot's deeper implications – if we can even call it that – eventually wearing what should have been subtle undertones like a demerit badge of honor, leaving little to the imagination. The young Ms. Cross is the down-on-her-luck working-class hero already prepared and primed for battle against the upper-class snobs robbing her of everything. Meanwhile, Derek personifies the risks of corporate ambitions, one that risks morality in favor of personal wealth, and his climb up each floor blatantly reflects that desire gone obsessively wrong. But as can already be guessed from his time with Cross, his fight to the top is ultimately his salvation but, again, without consequences. Something about the ending isn't so much unwarranted and unsatisfying, as it is predictable and inevitable.
Vital Disc Stats: The Ultra HD Blu-ray
Image Entertainment and RLJE Films bring Mayhem to 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray as a two-disc combo pack. The dual-layered UHD66 disc sits comfortably opposite a Region A locked, BD25 disc inside a black, eco-elite case with a lightly-embossed slipcover. After several skippable trailers, the disc switches to a generic menu screen with full-motion clips and music playing in the background.
Corporate chaos infects Ultra HD with a strong but nonetheless disappointing HEVC H.265 encode that lacks any form of HDR.
Although the picture showcases a few noteworthy positives that make this a notable upgrade over its Blu-ray counterpart, the raging illness bears many physical afflictions that turn the frenzy into more of a tantrum. The 4K presentation receives a generous contrast boost, displaying significantly cleaner and brighter whites throughout, but it still falls on the lower end of the grayscale, making for a rather bland and flat 2.35:1 image. The lack of HDR is also a major drawback as most of the presentation runs hotter than normal, creating a great deal of blooming in the highlight washing away the finest details and revealing mild noise in the background. Likely due to this, black levels waver often from true and accurate to mostly dull and murky while still maintaining excellent delineation within the shadows. Shot on digital cameras, the sterilized digital appearance lacks texture and ultimately looks like a made-for-television special.
On the other hand, as previously mentioned, the freshly-minted digital transfer comes with a couple major upgrades, significant enough to have fans singing its praises. Overall definition and resolution are shockingly good, exposing the smallest stitch and threading in the clothing. Along with the tiny objects in the background decorating the offices and cubicles, viewers can now actually make out the fiber fabric of the carpet or decorative rugs. Facial complexions can appear drained and sickly, but they reveal every negligible blemish and unmistakable wrinkle. However, there are also many softer, poorly resolved moments as well, and a few instances of aliasing along the sharpest edges. Colors are particularly noteworthy, arguably benefitting the most from the jump to UHD. Though secondary hues remain the same and decently varied, primaries are sumptuous and radiating, making the crimson-red blood practically ooze off the screen while energizing the green in plants with animated life. But in the end, these are minor improvements to an otherwise lackluster 4K presentation.
The rampage manages to more effectively contaminate 4K Ultra Blu-ray with the same 5.1 DTS-HD MA soundtrack that's on the standard Blu-ray, filling the room with rampant mayhem and the unrestrained appetites of strait-laced corporate puppets.
The surrounds aren't allowed to play in the chaos as much as one would hope, but when employed during a few choice berserk moments, the raging screams and tribal howls of some stodgy suits running through the hallways discretely and effortlessly pan from one side of the room to the other. Steve Moore's score and song selections, however, leave a more memorable impression, nicely spreading into the sides, rears and front heights when applying the receiver's Dolby Surround or DTS: Neural:X up-mixing functionality. Much of the design is a front-heavy presentation, littering the soundstage with lots of amusingly engaging background and off-screen activity. The mid-range exhibits plenty of clarity and detail when the diegetic music plays loudly, but it's not particularly dynamic or ever really pushed hard into the upper frequencies. Amid the mayhem, vocals remain precise and distinct at all times. Low bass doesn't do much damage, but it's adequate and hearty enough for providing the on-screen action and music some weight.
Audio Commentary: Director Joe Lynch is joined by director of photography Steve Gainer and editor Josh Ethier for a technical discussion on the production and some of the creative decisions with a few thoughts on the themes and performances.
Creating Mayhem (HD, 12 min): Standard making-of piece on the production with interviews explaining the plot and characters interspersed with BTS footage.
The Collected Works of Derek Cho (HD, 2 min): Slideshow piece displaying some of the artwork created by the character and featured in the movie.
Serving as a metaphor for the dangers of corporate ambitions, Mayhem is the story of a young, morally-bankrupt man, played The Walking Dead star Steven Yeun, with misguided aspirations of climbing the hierarchy ladder of wealth and social status. That desire is represented as an infectious disease that lessens or ruins one's moral inhibitions, and the movie strives to be a balls-to-the-wall, over-the-top carnage of suits going berserk on one another. However, much of that gore and violence feels restrained with an all-too-easy out at the end, making the promised mayhem ultimately tame and predictable.
Likewise, the infection spreads into Ultra HD with an equally disappointing yet average 4K presentation that lacks HDR, but for those overlooking this misstep, the video offers a significant upgrade over its Blu-ray counterpart. Along with the supplements, the same DTS-HD MA soundtrack is shared between both formats. In the end, the overall package is only worth a look for the most curious and devoted 4K collectors.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.