Severance (2006) / Horror-Comedy

MPAA Rated: Not rated, but definitely R for strong pervasive violence, gore, sexuality, drug use, brief nudity, and language
Running Time: 91 min.

Cast: Laura Harris, Danny Dyer, Tim McInnerny, Toby Stephens, Claudie Blakley, Andy Nyman, Babou Ceesay, David Gilliam
Director: Christopher Smith
Screenplay: James Moran, Christopher Smith
Review published September 7, 2006

Severance is a rare slasher film that overcomes its clichés with style, wit and a sense of fun about itself.  This one may not please genre purists, as the film progresses into being something more than a straight horror film, but those that enjoyed the cheeky attitude of Shaun of the Dead will probably find themselves similarly attracted to the "don't take it seriously attitude" (although far milder in execution than Shaun) that writer-director Christopher Smith maintains throughout the entirety of this compact but entertaining outing. 

The film starts with a team building retreat for the newer members of anti-terrorist weapons manufacturer, Palisade Defense, out in the wooded forests of Eastern Europe  When a fallen tree prevents them from advancing, the employees must hoof it the rest of the way, only to discover the luxury hotel they've all been promised is really a rundown, abandoned building without much food or accommodations.  The experience doesn't really allow them to bind, until they slowly discover that there is someone out there watching them, and that someone is going to start killing them in savage ways, one by one.  Without a vehicle, and with the surrounding woods booby trapped, getting out will be a test of their survival skills, and their ability to finally work together as a team.

It's difficult to avoid the comparison to TV's "The Office", with its smarmy boss, barely appreciative employees, and the semi-satirical attitude it espouses to the patented motivational techniques that companies force upon the staff to make them all productive and compliant workers.  While there is definitely a concerted element there, the plot of the film could also be compared to First Blood, with someone out in the woods, highly trained in munitions and survival techniques, taking it out on those that would invade the territory (Ironic that the paintball match starts with the admonition that there should be "no Rambos").  I suppose one might as well also toss in a Deliverance comparison, although I think that allusion is less intentional.

Christopher Smith, whose last film I severely maligned, Creep, shows a far better balance between the humor and horror this time around.  Less shock and gore, and more character interplay, results in a far more entertaining, and less gruesome affair for most viewers.  That's not to say that it isn't gory at times, or that it is always playing for laughs, but the parts one remembers are definitely the ones that are all meant for fun, and there are enough of those to have a limited crossover appeal to those that like horror films, but hate the lack of characterizations and predictability inherent in most of the slash-and-gash variety.  Like Scream, Severance is meant to be entertaining first and foremost, although the victims are much less self-aware.

With a cast of fun character actors and a few clever surprises, Severance shows that one can actually still make a slasher movie that is different than the norm without being redundant, or in being a total parody of them.  The title works well as a reference to business difficulties as well as to dismemberment, but the film's strengths lie more in what they join together, namely the humor and horror, than what is lopped off.  A good "bad" movie, if you like that sort of thing.

Qwipster's rating:

©2006 Vince Leo