Monday, April 16, 2007


For anyone who’s ever thought that team building seminars are a load of bollocks, well, Severance is the film for you.
Directed by Christopher Smith (who helmed the Franka Potente-starrer, Creep), Severance follows a group of Palisade Defence employees, taking a break from a tour of Eastern Europe for a team building weekend in a luxury lodge up in the mountains. Things don’t go quite as planned, of course, and much horror and hilarity ensue.

Horror/comedy mash-ups are always a tricky thing; sometimes the horror is tepid, or the comedy lame. The worst cases are when neither part of the equation works.
There are however, the exceptions, when the production captures just the right mix and leaves us with a classic: John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London; Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever; Edgar Wright’s Shaun of the Dead; James Gunn’s Slither; John Gulager's Feast.
Now you can add Severance to that list.

Lotta funnies here, as the film mines whatever is handy for its potential comedic value: sight gags, points of view, grindhouse conventions, even breaking the fourth wall.
Smith and company then display a canny understanding of comedy, by knowing the value of experiencing the anticipation of a funny, then having the pay-off be the consequence of the funny, without actually showing the audience the funny. (Down that verboten road lies physical comedy and slapstick.)
The funnies are then balanced against the more horrific aspects of the narrative as the machetes and bear traps are pulled out with a splatter flourish.
So effective is the melding that in one memorable sequence, we go from mild amusement to wince-inducing horror on the turn of a dime.

Additionally, what makes Severance even more enjoyable are the performances.
While the characters are borderline stereotype, the actors bring a welcome level of honesty and heart to the table that brings these characters to life (at least until the time comes for them to die).
So, while you may have seen the likes of Richard, the ineffectual boss (Blackadder’s Tim McInnerny, also recognizable to the kiddie congregation as Alonzo, Cruella’s butler from the Dalmatians movies), Gordon, the enthusiastic over-achiever (Andy Nyman), or Steve, the off-his-tits-on-`shrooms under-achiever (Danny Dyer, from Justin Kerrigan’s Human Traffic) before, the actors nevertheless leave an impression, and make the proceedings all the more entertaining.
And yes, I use the words “enjoyable” and “entertaining” to describe a film which has people fleeing through the woods screaming for their lives.

Certainly a sight better than Smith’s previous effort, Creep (which was little more than ho-hum horror we’d all seen before), Severance is an effective exercise in getting us to scream our fool bloody heads off while we stifle the mad giggles. There is even a subtextual swipe against the military and weapons manufacturers that may give one pause in between the shrieks and guffaws. (And in today’s post-9/11 world, you can’t go wrong with that.)

Parting shot: Severance opened last year in Ireland and the United Kingdom on August 25, just two weeks after Wilderness, a film with which it shares a couple of similarities in regards to situation and methods of dispatch. Ultimately though, the films are different entities, and though I may have enjoyed Severance more, Wilderness is still an effective shocker that could be your thing, if straight-up horror is more to your tastes. (Wilderness reviewed here: Archive March 2007.)

(Severance OS courtesy of

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