Since I despise corporate life more than I hate soggy fast food french fries, I've never been a part of a required "Weekend Retreat" mandated by the mythical Powers That Be. It seems like a very uncomfortable experience, and it's certainly not my idea of a good time. Believe it or not, millions of people are forced to participate in such dehumanizing activities on a regular basis, so I guess it was only a matter of time before someone turned these wasted weekends into the premise for a particularly gruesome British horror picture. How embarrassingly clever!
Enter Christopher Smith, the director of the vastly underrated London tube chiller Creep, a film I thought got slammed way too hard by Stateside genre fans. It had its share of problems, mind you, but it was far from the worst release we had to chew on last year. Smith has certainly taken the naysayers to the bathroom for a swirly with his snarky horror/comedy, Severance. Sometimes we need a little toilet cleansing to help show us the way, I'm afraid. That what my seventh grade gym teacher said, anyway.
The sales division of notorious weapons manufacturer Palisade Defense is sent into the mountainous region of eastern Europe for a team-building workshop. Needless to say no one is too thrilled with the idea. After their bus is blocked by a fallen tree, this group of oh-so witty work-weekers suddenly find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere, thanks in part to a confusing confrontation between their boss (Tim McInnerny) and their hot-tempered bus driver. Instead of backtracking to the comfort of their modern hotel, the squad reluctantly decides to venture to their destination on-foot.
Once a few amusing drug-related mishaps are out of the way, our heroes arrive at a creepy derelict building nestled deep within the woods. The joint is extremely rundown, covered in dust, filled with broken bric-a-brac, and stocked with an interesting foil-wrapped pie. Before you can say "bad idea," the group is engulfed in a series of spooky events, leading the co-workers to ponder what, exactly, this so-called "lodge" really is. The next morning, two of the braver members trek into the woods to find a cellular signal while the others sally forth with the paintball portion of their workshop. Unfortunately for everyone, it appears that they are not alone in that secluded section of Europe, and there might actually be some truth to the stories they joked about the night before.
Severance proves, if nothing else, that Smith is extremely capable of deft, laugh-out-loud comedy, even when the situation is saturated in coagulated blood and rotting body parts. Using humor to not only cut the tension but to help you feel for the characters and their plight, Smith builds up the first half of the movie as if he were piecing together yet another sly little British comedy. The situation soon turns violent — horribly violent even — without the feeling that you're watching two completely different films. The genres are blended almost perfectly, giving you just enough chuckles to help alleviate some of the truly horrific scenes that follow the group's short lived paintball showdown.
The entire cast is top-notch, though it's Danny Dyer and Tim McInnerny who easily steal the show. McInnerny personifies every pig-headed, self-important boss you have ever had, while Dyer lovingly portrays the office drug abuser who won't hesitate to consume a bag of "magic mushrooms" despite not knowing the specific effects they'll have on his psyche. Fans of The Faculty and Nickelodeon's early-90's teen drama Fifteen with surely get a kick out of seeing Laura Harris deal some serious damage towards the end of the picture. Saucy? You know it.
Half the fun of having likable characters in a flick like this is being completely caught off-guard by how these interesting individuals meet their untimely demise. And fear not, horror/comedy naysayers: the violence is handled in a brutal and straight-forward manner, though a few deaths do manage to sneak in an evil giggle or two for good measure. It's surprisingly well-done; I doubt you'll have much to cry to your mother about in the morning.
Be warned: Some reviewers are comparing Smith's oh-so satisfying horror/comedy to Shaun of the Dead. This isn't entirely true. While Shaun seems like a comedy mixed with a hefty dose of fanboy horror, Severance is more of a horror film that just so happens to be funny. Does that make any sense whatsoever? I hope so, because it's really the only way I know how to describe it. I fear this will become a nasty little trend, where every single British horror/comedy is compared to the Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's modern-day classic. Please, for the love of God, let it end here.
Severance, in my hyperbole-laden opinion, is a solid horror picture with just enough comedic elements to warrant the dreaded "horror/comedy" label. Passing on this one simply because it's funny, however, would be a huge mistake on your part. Christopher Smith has an incredible feel for the characters he creates, allowing for plenty of emotional investment by the time your favorites start to drop like bloated horseflies. If you have the opportunity to sit down with this one, do so immediately. Bring your uncle if you have to. Just don't go in expecting something on par with Shaun of the Dead, okay? Severance is a good film, don't get me wrong, but it's not that damn good. This is no slight to the cast and filmmakers, of course. It's just a fact of life.
I think even Christopher Smith would agree with me on that.Powered by Sidelines