2007, R, 90 min. Directed by Christopher Smith. Starring Tim McInnerny, Danny Dyer, Toby Stephens, Andy Nyman, Claudie Blakley, Laura Harris, Babou Ceesay, David Gilliam.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., June 8, 2007
Severance is a British horror-comedy that, from the get-go, has two distracting strikes against it. First, it arrives in the wake of Edgar Wright's flat-out brilliant Shaun of the Dead, inarguably the finest commingling of ghastly horror and laugh-up-a-lung, cerebral slapstick since a naked American man stole a little boy's balloons in John Landis' An American Werewolf in London. Second, director Smith has offhandedly referred to his film as a "cross between The Office and Deliverance," which to my mind is setting the scythe perhaps a tad too high. Whether he spoke in jest or not, the film just doesn't reach those heights, although in its own way, it nets some near-Python-esque (as in Monty) moments. These are moments of surreal, sometimes silly, humor that also manage an air of both forested menace ("There's something in the woods!" one character repeatedly observes, à la Evil Dead) and an increasing series of improbably amusing sequences of climactic overkill. The plot has the staff of Palisades Defence, a high-tech weapons manufacturer, traveling to Hungary for one of those ever-treacherous "team-spirit-building exercises" – or so they've been told. The Balkans seem a long way to go for such a pedestrian example of corporate yawns, but as it turns out, Palisades Defence was intimately connected with the region back in the day, and not in a good way, either. Hence, the bus must be abandoned in the middle of nowhere, a ruinous old house is discovered, and the staff takes up residence overnight. And then the killing begins. Smith's direction is unfaultable, and the film moves along quickly, ricocheting from violence to vengeance to outright survivalism, with comedy – some brilliant, some less so – underlying it all. Like the Britain of Tony Blair, it's neither bloody awful nor bloody great. Which isn't to say, rest assured, that there isn't plenty of blood.