In more ways than one, Joe Lynch’s Mayhem is a movie about life. At any given moment, the focus may be on ending a person’s life or taking one’s own life back, but the film constantly remains fixated on analyzing what it means to be alive, and Lynch approaches this idea in a truly unique, humorous, violent, and hopeful way.
A perfectly balanced mixture of workplace comedy and high-octane action-thriller, Mayhem certainly lives up to its name thanks to its fast-paced editing and take-no-prisoners attitude. Steven Yeun (in what promises to be a breakout role) stars as Derek Cho, a young attorney working at a soulless, corrupt law firm. Despite disagreeing with many of the corporation’s practices, Derek’s desire to be successful prevents him from objecting to the demands of his bosses. But when he ends up being sabotaged by one his superiors on the same day that a rage-inducing virus is spread through the office building, Derek sees his opportunity to get even.
Fascinatingly, the virus in question is nothing like most cinematic sicknesses. Instead of turning its victims into mindless flesh-eaters, the virus removes all inhibitions and forces the infected to act on their innermost desires — regardless of the consequences — which results in people doing everything from having sex in public to physically attacking their enemies. Of course, the evil boss and his lackeys become even more sadistic after being infected, but the same can be said of Derek and his unexpected partner in seeking vengeance, Melanie (Samara Weaving), who has her own vendetta with the bank.
It’s this peculiar dynamic between Derek and Melanie that elevates Mayhem from a fun thriller into something much more special. Human moments shared by the two provide the funniest moments in the film (including the best usage of a Dave Matthews Band song in the history of cinema), and Yeun and Weaving play off of each other in true straight man/funny man fashion. They’re so charming and sharp-witted that it’s nearly impossible not to cheer for them, and all of their minor successes throughout the film feel worthy of applause.
But while the movie tends to lean to the more humorous side of the equation, it’s not without its serious moments. Mayhem comes along at a time when the pursuit of happiness in the workforce seems more complicated than ever, and Derek’s struggles are guaranteed to resonate with most everyone who has ever worked a white collar job. Intelligently, Lynch does avoid traveling too far down the political path, opting for a much more entertaining and digestible approach to the film’s subject matter.
Comparisons to both Office Space and The Raid are guaranteed to be pointed out over and over again when discussing the film, but they’re not unwarranted. The anti-establishment, anti-corporation themes present in Office Space and the concept of literally fighting one’s way to the top of a massive building as established in The Raid are apparent, but Mayhem still feels drastically different from both of those movies. It truly is a unique viewing experience.
Cinema is completely subjective, of course, but there’s just so much to appreciate here that it’s difficult to imagine someone not having fun with the film. Thanks to its likable protagonists, relatable themes, sharp editing, synthy score, and incredible soundtrack of licensed music, Mayhem is an absolute blast and should not be missed by anyone with an affinity for intense genre cinema. This one is an absolute blast that deserves the highest of recommendations.
Mayhem recently screened at SXSW 2017.