Joe Lynch’s Mayhem is something of a miracle. Existing on a plane of high-octane brutality, the film disguises itself in a badass mask of blood and energy, subliminally exploring the sacrifices we frequently make in order to achieve white collar success: The sacrifice of our time, our happiness, and ultimately, ourselves.
Mayhem follows Derek Cho (Steven Yeun), who has spent his adulthood slaving away at a suit and tie job, working to achieve the type of success he’s been conditioned by society to believe that he truly wants. Money and power: the American dream. We’re introduced to Derek as an eager young worker who is prepared to do whatever it takes to be someone of importance within the confines of his company, but Lynch quickly showcases the damaging toll in which that lifestyle can have on the spirit of even the most enthused.
During an especially bad day at work, Derek searches for his missing coffee mug, turns a cold shoulder to a client whose home is being foreclosed on (despite feeling remorse for her), and is unjustly fired from his job. All of these events take place as a dangerous virus is spreading throughout the building. Though the virus itself isn’t fatal, the victims of the disease can be, as it temporarily halts your id, forcing you to give into your wildest impulses- including murder.
Seeking justice for the sacrifices he’s made within the company, Derek teams up with the client he’d turned away earlier in the day (Samara Weaving) while the building is under quarantine to fight their way to the top floor and hold the suits accountable for their actions.
This world doesn’t deserve Steven Yeun. The actor often conveys an irreplaceable amount of heart, shining in The Walking Dead (the show misses him dearly), and 2017’s Okja. Here, Yeun is allowed to display a wild side of his persona, but underneath the character’s angst, that heart remains untouched. We feel that Derek is a good guy, even when he makes cold decisions, and Yeun is one of the few actors working today that can pull off this feat so naturally.
Samara Weaving is excellent throughout Mayhem as well, exuding an insanity that’s reminiscent of Harley Quinn. Despite being entirely unhinged, she brings a depth of sweetness and relatability to the character- and though the film doesn’t develop her character to the extent of Derek, Weaving allows her to feel equally as important. Together, Yeun and Weaving are bursting with addictive chaotic chemistry, and the strongest moments of the film come when they’re on screen together.
As an action horror comedy, Mayhem works on nearly every level. Lynch immediately establishes a chaotic energy that never once lets up, and we follow that frantic tone through moments of extreme violence. While viewers are treated to gallons of blood, Lynch manages to make the unrewarding, self-decaying 9-to-5 lifestyle feel like the true nightmare. Sometimes we need a life-threatening event to realize that we’re not really living, and though the final lines of the film are a bit on the nose in that message of following your dreams before it’s too late, Mayhem succeeds in making viewers feel liberated. It’s got more to say than you might expect, and it could serve you well to listen.
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