Worth A Look: 45.65%
Just Average: 2.17%
Pretty Crappy: 26.09%
6 reviews, 10 user ratings
by Jay Seaver
SCREENED AT THE 2006 BOSTON FANTASTIC FILM FESTIVAL: I'm not sure what the method is for determining whether a horror movie plays theaters or goes straight to video in this country, but it needs refinement. A couple years ago, Christopher Smith's "Creep" showed up on the "fantastic festival" circuit and was an impressively intense outing that even had a recognizable lead; it went to video. Now he's back with "Severance", almost as thrilling as "Creep" and funny besides, and I can only hope this one manages to see the inside of theaters.In this one, a group of office mates from the UK branch of Palisades Defense are touring Eastern Europe in a bus, presumably selling weapons to people who really have enough, when they encounter a downed tree. Pompous Richard (Tim McInnerny) opts to take his co-workers down a road that cuts through the woods on foot rather than wait for the tree to be cleared. Clearly, none of the folks on the bus - sarcastic Harris (Toby Stephens), enthusiastic Gordon (Andy Nyman), sexy American Maggie (Laura Harris), mousy Jill (Claudie Blakley), weed-loving Steve (Danny Dyer), and shy Billy (Babou Ceesay) - have seen the opening scene, where a man and his two prostitutes are running through the woods only to be snagged by various traps. They do find a bunkhouse in the woods, but everyone except Richard has their doubts that this is the company lodge where their end-of-trip team-building exercise is supposed to be held.
"Remember - nobody really finds a pie."
I've mostly had good experiences at the various offices where I've worked, but I've never worked for a sprawling multinational doing work that feels either trivial or counter to making the world a better place. Apparently, it makes you snippy, quite willing to wander off in the woods of a strange country just to get away from the rest of the group, even after you know it's probably not safe. Smith and his co-writer Moran don't stop at that; as much as there are several lines you can draw between people who don't like each other, it's not a situation where the characters show callous disregard for one another, either. They're mostly decent enough human beings, which is important - as much as there's some good jokes to be made from people being awful to each other, the risk is the audience merely rooting for the characters to die in unusual ways.
We like a good chunk of the cast, though, even if they don't necessarily mix. For example, Gordon is the type of guy that can get on one's nerves after prolonged exposure; he's always agreeing with the boss and trying to put a positive spin on things - in real life, you might feel bad about disliking him even as you want him to dial it back; here, it's a little funny when horrible things happen to him. Laura Harris plays Maggie as being as sensible as she is hot, kind of impatient but also kind of funny in how she deals with it; for instance, in an early scene, she's leading Steve around on a leash because it's the easiest way to deal with the slightly high I.T. guy. Danny Dyer gets to have fun as Steve - he's the guy in the office who somehow never seems to get fired despite being a lazy dope fiend who probably spends more time trying to get a date with his attractive female co-workers than actually working. The characters are all, really, familiar types, but they're not quite stock characters who have simply been taken off a shelf and dropped into a movie; they're a believable unit, so they're not just being picked off one by one, but a group being attacked.
And they're being picked off; the movie aims to sharply reduce its cast by the time the credits roll, and for the most part it's pretty serious about how it goes about doing so. The area around the lodge is seeded with death traps, some ironically manufactured by Palisades, and when someone runs afoul of them and the people who placed them, it's almost always played straight. There's comedy all around the violence, whether it be banter or characters finding themselves in obviously absurd situations, but when someone gets killed, the film isn't messing around. The kills aren't spectacularly original - guns, knives, traps, and mines - so the focus is on avoiding them rather than anticipating them.
Okay, a couple moments of carnage are pretty funny - the scenes with the rocket launcher and the bear trap are beautiful examples of how letting something play out for just the right amount of time can create big laughs without making the actual scene any less awful (the latter, in particular, is a fantastic example of something being funny and horrifying at once). All around that, though, are much lighter moments - the three different styles used when the characters speculate about Palisades Defense's connection to the lodge (the silent pastiche being a particular favorite), Steve getting on Maggie's nerves, the astonishing number of useful items Gordon keeps in his knapsack, Richard being a prat, and the low-key way the movie comes full circle. There's jokes enough for this to be a straight "company outing from hell" movie.That's why "Severance" works so well, I think - rather than grafting self-aware jokes onto a slasher movie that openly invite the audience to take the suspenseful elements likely, it drops bloody murder into an office comedy. The result is no less funny than a purely comedic "Severance" would be, but it's also completely capable of getting the audience to bite some nails.
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originally posted: 11/01/06 23:59:58
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