Severance (2006)

(Article first published as Movie Review: Severance on Blogcritics.)

I recently watched a 2006 horror comedy called Severance. The films gets right down to business, starting things off with a forest chase scene where two sexy girls fall into a trap, and giving the viewer a taste of the upcoming gore by displaying a middle-aged man trying to save his own skin instead of helping the girls. Shortly thereafter he gets his comeuppance by getting stabbed in the belly. I like this film already.

Severance is a film about how a group of employees to a weapons manufacturing corporate go team building somewhere in the mountains of Eastern Europe. It is obvious from the start the motley crew – an incompetent manager, a competent assistant, a handsome jerk, a nerdy lady, a happy camper, a stoner and an anorexic hot American – can barely stand each other. They are less than thrilled at a prospect of a team building weekend (and if you’ve ever been to one of those, you’ll know how they feel). Their only common factor seems to be the disdain for their brown-nosing manager. As the road gets cut off, the group takes a short-cut through the woods, despite the fact the local driver refuses to go down that route, and rather throws them out of the bus. They are left with little choice but to try to find the luxury lodge on foot. They do end up at a lodge which is somewhat lacking in the hot spa and luxury department… Not long after, people start getting killed.

Boy, do they learn team building.

There is something wonderfully gritty about British films. They feel more real than those gleamed-to-perfection Hollywood productions where the protagonist is always good-looking, and everything happens in perfect shooting conditions, and the heroine’s make-up never fails. The difference is probably cultural more than a matter of film-making ability: British sense of humour tends to be dry, black, and mostly focuses on things that go wrong. The wonder of the film is that no matter how gruesome the action gets – and believe me, it does get gruesome – that tiny little tickle that makes you think it’s actually pretty funny when someone’s leg gets chopped off by a bear trap is weaved in so subtly you find yourself laughing before you even realise how sick it is. Brilliant! The film is well-paced and offers some of the best horror flick one-liners I’ve heard for a while.

“Shall I make a cup of tea?” – ha! No? I guess you had to be there.

The characters have been simplified to pure stereotype, and go through no development during the film. Despite this, the film manages to make each character likeable in all of their one dimension. As the characters grow on you, you grow a certain fondness for them. You actually care when they get chopped to pieces. Perhaps it’s because anywhere a number a people gather, there is at least one of these prototypes present. You know them already.

The cast is mostly comprised of British TV actors who have very few film appearances, some only vaguely familiar to me. Not seeing same old faces all over again is a breath of fresh air. Because the characters are written the way they are, it’s difficult to tell if the cast is acting to the best of their ability, or to their worst. Somewhat unsurprisingly, Danny Dyer (Doghouse, Human Traffic) playing the stoner protagonist, Steve, gives the best performance. You can probably account it for the fact that, since the beginning, he is the least dislikeable of the characters – Laura Harris as the frigid heroine, Maggie, seems bland by comparison.

Is it scary? I have no idea. I’m the kind of person who laughs at inappropriately violent scenes, and I’ve yet to find a film to make me frightened (suggestions welcome!).

Severance is a brainchild of writer James Moran and director Christopher Smith, whom I’ve not had the pleasure of getting known to before. For a film which includes the best thriller stereotypes, the film succeeds in making it’s own mark, rather than imitating a bunch of other films. What other production of the thriller/horror genre can boast a logical insert of two Russian-speaking escort girls who are compelled to strip to save themselves? Su-perb! Despite mostly following the typical storyline of typical horror flicks, Severance manages to surprise the viewer on more than one occasion, cause genuine bursts of laughter as well as sincere eww‘s. Verily, Severance takes any other horror comedy and calmly head-butts it and kicks it in the fork all the while enjoying a nice, quiet spliff. Splendid work!


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