Toronto After Dark 2017: Mayhem Directed by Joe Lynch
Starring Steven Yeun, Samara Weaving, Steven Brand
Published Oct 18, 2017Mayhem is next in a long line of "virus containment" horror films that amp up the dramatic tension by placing characters in a quarantined zone, forced to battle all manner of zombified humans to survive. Mayhem, however, features a neat twist: the "ID7" virus isn't deadly, but it makes people do deadly things.
Our protagonist and narrator Derek Cho (Stephen Yuen), an embittered executive at corporate law firm Towers & Smyth Consulting, helpfully explains to us in the film's opening minutes that his firm recently defended a man accused of murder while infected with ID7, arguing that the virus renders the victim unable to control their own impulses. Hosts infected with ID7 engage in a kaleidoscope of wildly unrestrained behaviour, like banging each other in public, screaming, setting things on fire and, sometimes, even flat-out murder.
When Cho is framed and ultimately fired for a costly mistake that could put the firm's future in jeopardy, he decides to take his case all the way to the top-floor CEOs. Unfortunately, this is precisely when public health officials announce that, ironically, the ID7 virus has infected the entire office building, which must now be quarantined for eight hours. Together with Melanie Cross (Samara Weaving), who is caught up in the quarantine after coming to Towers & Smyth to dispute a foreclosure notice, Cho must fight his way through a final boss-like series of executives and corporate cronies, each more depraved than usual thanks to ID7.
Mayhem takes a while to get going, setting up an elaborate corporate scandal that's a little too on the nose to be brilliant satire. It's sly enough to keep the momentum going, though, even as this narrative stretches a little too long; Machiavellian corporate scheming doesn't really start to feel high-stakes until murder by power tools is involved.
To its credit, this premise further sets Mayhem apart from the multitude of other infection movies, juxtaposing the starchy corporate world with the animalistic loss of inhibition and id that comes with the virus. It's about as subtle as a kick to the gut, but once the movie fully embraces its sense of fun, it's free to luxuriate in its over-the-top performances, best among them Caroline Chikezie as the masterfully manipulative exec "The Siren." Yuen and Weaving themselves are charismatic leads that trade witty and flirtatious banter with aplomb.
It all culminates in a gleefully bloody, office-wide brawl that's lacking in choreography but has manic energy in spades — a fitting coda for a technically imperfect, deliriously frantic film like Mayhem.