MAYHEM. Turn off logical thinking

It’s best to ignore one particularly annoying detail, turn off logical thinking for an hour and a half, and just have a great time watching Mayhem.

Jan Brzozowski

9 June 2024


Big corporations have often been criticized in culture. Franz Kafka highlighted the soul-crushing desk job and the mindlessness of those who perform it in his monumental work, The Trial, in the early twentieth century. In cinema, Billy Wilder took up the mantle, portraying the ugly world of corporate machinations under the guise of a viewer-friendly romantic comedy in The Apartment. In 2017, another successful film targeting the business environment was released – Mayhem by Joe Lynch (to clarify, he has nothing to do with David Lynch). The 68-year-old director decided to conduct his ruthless attack in the form of a full-blooded black comedy. It’s both brutal and funny, in a word: enjoyable.

The world is ravaged by the ID-7 virus. Those infected lose control and begin making decisions based solely on primal instincts, like animals. Due to a legal loophole, any actions committed under the influence of the infection are not punishable. You can kill, rape, burn, and loot without fear of consequences. One day, the virus reaches the glass office building where the main character of Mayhem, Derek Cho (Steven Yeun), works. Derek is having a terribly bad morning: his favorite coffee mug has disappeared under mysterious circumstances, and a devious coworker has pinned the blame for a neglected court case on him. Derek’s career starts to hang by a thread when suddenly, due to the rapidly spreading infection, the building is placed under complete quarantine. The protagonist sees this event as an opportunity to pay back the treacherous coworker and the hated management in kind.


A Great Duo

Steven Yeun and Samara Weaving complement each other fantastically in Lynch’s film (yes, I know how that sounds). He portrays the main character, while she plays Melanie Cross, a woman who decides to help the protagonist execute his brutal revenge plan and save her family from eviction. During their blood-soaked and corpse-filled journey to the top floor of the office building, the characters discuss their favorite rock bands, gradually understanding their own motivations and developing a genuine fondness for each other. Yeun, whom I had previously admired only in Okja, excels in the role of an ambitious, success-hungry employee. Derek’s determination comes through most fully during a very clever montage sequence in the elevator, narrated off-screen. The transformation Derek ultimately undergoes, influenced by his acquaintance with Melanie, is believable, and we root for his revenge plans from the very beginning. Samara Weaving also performs well on screen. She brings a lot of the sexual energy of Bee, a character she played in Netflix’s *The Babysitter*.

“Mayhem”: Satire

In this category, Mayhem performs very well. Joe Lynch’s film mainly targets corporate drones, who mechanically and soullessly perform their duties, represented by the demonic HR director or initially even Derek himself. The director also criticizes the sycophancy and subservience that lower-level employees practice towards their higher-ups. The master in this field is The Siren (Caroline Chikezie) – the boss’s favorite and the devious coworker whose intervention made Derek seriously fear for his comfortable position. However, let’s remember that none of the characters mentioned here are inherently bad. It is the merciless corporate machine that made them this way, and it seems to be the biggest antagonist in Lynch’s film and the main target of his satire. Breaking free from its clutches is possible only when, like Derek, one revises their life priorities and recognizes the wrong, inhuman decisions made in the past.



They are clear as day. The dynamic, suggestive editing evokes early films by Edgar Wright, especially Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. The class division by floor recalls the one used in High-Rise, the novel by J.G. Ballard, which Ben Wheatley adapted into a film in 2015. The isolation of the characters in a tall office building with a horde of enemies to neutralize reeks of the scheme popularized by the cult classic Die Hard. The mysterious disease caused by the ID-7 virus brings to mind the affliction spread via cell phones by the villainous Valentine in Kingsman: The Secret Service. Despite such a wealth of inspirations, Mayhem remains a coherent work that maintains growing interest right up to the final showdown.

Joe Lynch’s decision to end with a didactic, moralizing monologue by Derek, in which the protagonist explains that we shouldn’t view this film merely as unpretentious entertainment, is entirely unnecessary. It’s best to ignore this particularly annoying detail, turn off logical thinking for an hour and a half, and just have a great time watching Mayhem. It may not be the exact reception the director intended, but does it really matter?

Janek Brzozowski

Jan Brzozowski

Permanently sleep-deprived, as he absorbs either westerns or new adventure cinema at night. A big fan of the acting skills of James Dean and Jimmy Stewart, and the beauty of Ryan Gosling and Elle Fanning. He is also interested in American and French literature, as well as soccer.

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