“Severance” is the latest from British horror hope Christopher Smith, who had a hit in 2004 with his excellent tube-bound chiller “Creep”. Here, Smith tackles something a little more ambitious, attempting to work in satirical humour and even social commentary amongst the ever rising corpse count. Of course, comedy and horror are not necessarily the best of bedfellows, though Smith largely manages to avoid the pitfalls of the genre and produces something which is both amusing, frequently in a surprisingly sophisticated manner, and thrilling, packing a real visceral punch.
The plot is a prime set up for woodsy slaughter, following a busload of workers for multi-national weapons company Palisade Defence who go on a team building exercise in the wilds of Hungary . Unfortunately, they are diverted en route to their lodgings by a mysterious roadblock, and the usual bickering and one-upmanship soon gives way to a desperate struggle for survival as they are hunted down and killed by mysterious assailants.
“Severance” is a genuinely funny film, with humour in the vein of the much-lauded BBC comedy “The Office” and the 2004 hit “Shaun of the Dead”. As such, most of the laughs come from well observed idiosyncrasies of the workplace and the British people in general. Thankfully, although the film is populated with fairly broad stereotypes, such as the useless manager (played in hilarious fashion by “Blackadder” veteran Tim McInnerny), the office geek and the drug taking cockney wide boy, Smith pokes fun at them gently, rather than exploiting them for mean spirited slapstick. As the film progresses, the characters react quite realistically to the nightmarish situation, and as a result the viewer actually comes to care about what happens to them.
Smith also runs a nice line in satire, mainly in the form of laughs at the expense of the American ‘war on terror’, including one real side splitter towards the end which is easily one of the funniest scenes in years. Coupled with the fact that the characters work for an arms company, this gives this film a nicely cynical edge and provides a level of depth usually unseen in comedy horrors, which are usually content to focus on lowest common denominator gross out gags.
After a vicious opening scene, “Severance” takes a while to get to the horror, and it is not until the second half of the film that the bodies begin to pile up, with Smith quite patiently building up a feeling of unease. However, once the blood starts to flow the film rarely lets up, and there are a good number of gruesome set pieces. Wisely, Smith lets the humour take a back seat from this point onwards, and the film becomes an intense tale of survival horror in the best tradition, with the characters not only facing a multiple weapon wielding maniac but a forest filled with a series of unpleasant traps.
Smith certainly knows the conventions of the genre, and frequently plays on them to subvert viewer expectations. Whilst some of these are a little clumsy, such as a dream sequence quite obviously inserted for a cheap shock, most of them work quite well, and give the film a refreshingly innovative feel, including a flashback imagined in the style of a black and white silent film, complete with title cards. These certainly help to keep even the most jaded genre fan on their toes, and help to breathe new life into the time old woodland slaughter scenario.
Unfortunately, “Severance” is unlikely to have the same kind of mass-appeal enjoyed by “Shaun of the Dead”, mainly due to the fact that the cynical laughs are matched evenly with some genuinely vicious moments that plant the film firmly in the horror genre. This is a shame, as not only is it one of the best British horror films in years, but one of the few from any country which manages to mix mirth and murder so effectively.
Christopher Smith (director) / James Moran, Christopher Smith (screenplay)
CAST: Danny Dyer …. Steve
Laura Harris …. Maggie
Tim McInnerny …. Richard
Toby Stephens …. Harris
Claudie Blakley …. Jill
Andy Nyman …. Gordon
Babou Ceesay …. Billy
David Gilliam …. George