Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 08/01/17 04:14:53

"Provides what the title promises, plus chemistry."
3 stars (Average)

SCREENED AT THE 2017 FANTASIA INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: "Mayhem" is, if nothing else, up-front about how it's going to appeal to the id and allow things that even the most violent stories will disapprove of in some way, and that the filmmakers mostly manage to get away with that is as much a testament to the charisma of Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving as anything else. It's hardly the first movie whose appeal is in large part based upon enjoying well-done violence that might otherwise be found unacceptable; it just does a better job of directly selling that to the audience.

The mechanism for that is "ID-7", a virus that pours jet fuel on the emotional impulses of anyone who contracts it (along with giving them a distinct red eye). Attorney Derek Cho (Yeun) helped formulate the defense that got murder charges against a "redder" dismissed, and as a result he's been promoted to a corner office on the fifth floor of Towers & Smythe Consulting, although that's far enough from the penthouse that Kara "The Siren" Powell (Caroline Chikezie) can still use him as a fall guy, and his attempt to take it up with boss John Towers (Steven Brand) gets him fired. As luck and irony would have it, though, ID-7 has been detected in the T&S ventilation system, leading the Center for Disease Control to lock him up in the basement rather than throwing him out on the streets, along with Melanie Cross (Weaving), whose attempts to dispute the details of her mortgage he dismissed earlier. Now, though, they see each other as potential allies, since they've got about an eight-hour window during which they won't be charged for any crimes they commit on their way to getting satisfaction from the people who screwed them over.

I suspect that if Derek's and Melanie's rampage actually went to court, the previous decision would not be an automatic get-out-of-jail-free card, and that's akin to the central nut that the filmmakers have to crack - what's the balance between T&S karmically deserving what's coming, the clear premeditation on the part of Derek and Melanie, and how their thinking is being influenced by the virus? Few in the audience will probably find the way these factors interact perfectly done all the time, although writer Matias Caruso and director Joe Lynch are mostly able to set things up so that the audience is willing to negotiate - like, a viewer would be okay having them get to Kara or John and then holding back until they made the first move and were mutilated in self-defense. Things don't necessarily play out that way, naturally, and maybe if the film gave the audience a little more of the pair consumed by their immediate impulses rather than making plans, it would work a little better for more people. Sure, folks going to see something called "Mayhem" with this description are likely okay with what they're getting, and there is a nice irony to the set-up, even if the film isn't as much about T&C being hoisted by their own petard or even about a virus that heightens emotions showing Derek what he really wants.

No, it's mostly about the violence, and Lynch is enthusiastic in splashing blood up on screen, with plenty of bits that will make the audience wince and cheer in equal measure as almost everything comes with a sting of black humor or satisfaction, though the ones that don't have a decent amount of bite. This movie isn't so much about the elaborate fight scene so much as the quick and bloody kill, and many of them are delivered. Even when they're not, there's plentiful chaos going on in the background. It's a pretty loud movie in general - lots of metal played at high volume on the score and shouting where other films would likely angrily hiss - but that's the premise of it.

Still, there's a charm to it, in large part because Steven Yeun makes a terrific put-upon everyman despite opening the film in the armor of a corporate bastard. He's got a way of showing that even bullying someone for good ends doesn't exactly feel good, but is also charmingly sincere when some other emotion gets its chance to be amped up. He doesn't fumble the brief chances to show that this job is killing Derek's soul early on, and does well when given a chance to be utterly furious later; it's the moments where he's supposed to be hot-bloodedly ruthless that trip things up a bit. Samara Weaving hits that fairly well, though; she has Melanie seeming to relish the chance to be blunt and sarcastic after coming to the firm dressed up in a professional skirt and heels to try and make a good impression on people she hates; it wouldn't be surprising if that described a large part of her life in general. The pair have enough chemistry moving between exaggeratedly antagonistic and getting kind of fond of each other where it would be fun to see them put together in other movies. They're put up against a quality supporting cast, with Yuen especially getting to go up against Caroline Chikezie, Steven Brand, Dallas Roberts, and more as they happily chew scenery.

"Mayhem" is as aggressive as it sounds from the title, and as a result not even for everyone who generally enjoys over-the-top action and horror. It's nevertheless satisfying to see Yeun get a leading role and kill in it, in both meanings of the word.

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