Severance (2007)

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 10/03/07 18:53:11

"A cut below."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

“Severance” comes self-described as “The Office” meets “Deliverance,” and while the “Office” similarities are endless - at least one cast member is trying overtime to impersonate David Brent - the other half of the equation is more “Hostel” and its ilk. While decidedly tame when compared to those horror flicks, the violence in “Severance” is aimed so squarely at the torture porn crowd that it dilutes much of the fun to be had from a properly designed horror-comedy combo.

Originally conceived as a teamwork-building exercise gone horribly wrong, the premise of “Severance” was changed a little too much during its journey to the screen, eventually becoming little more than your standard idiots-trapped-by-stalkers plot. A group from a weapons manufacturers conglomerate have come to an unspecified eastern European locale for a weekend retreat. A felled tree blocks their bus, and the driver refuses to make a particular detour. The employees are eventually stranded in the woods, only to stumble upon a deserted lodge where they decide to rest for the night. Alas, a team of maniacs is on their tail, and one by one, the group falls victim to bear traps, flamethrowers, and torture chambers.

Directed by Christopher Smith (who previously helmed the clumsy yet enjoyable chillfest “Creep”) and written by Smith and James Moran, “Severance” never quite hits enough big laughs to work its comedy half, and it never quite finds the solid frights to work its horror half. The humor is on loan from smarter British properties, with characters and situations lifted right out of “The Office” but without the satirical bite. The frights, meanwhile, are punctuated with lazy jump-scare music stings that remind us when to leap from our seats; later, the use of torture devices becomes a crutch for the filmmakers, who seem unable to generate more legitimate frights. Once the remaining heroes break free, spending the entire third act in a chase sequence, we discover just how boring this undercooked set-up has become.

The film is almost likable enough, in spurts, to keep us watching through most of the story, and a few of the scares are quite genuine. Both counts are credited mainly to a solid cast that handles the script’s mood swings far more delicately than the script itself does. This cast - which includes Toby Stephens, Danny Dyer, and Laura Harris - improves the material by refusing to camp it up when the story unnecessarily demands it most.

But the screenplay runs out of ideas way too early, eventually settling for a that’ll-do-for-now approach to the material. And so we spend the rest of the picture plodding through mediocre, clichéd horror flick concepts that never amount to much of anything. “Severance” could have been a wildly fun/scary romp, but instead, sitting through its increasingly sluggish pace feels like, well, work.

© Copyright HBS Entertainment, Inc.