Severance (Germany/United Kingdom, 2006)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

As Shaun of the Dead illustrated, it is possible to make a horror comedy that is both funny and scary. Severance, while not nearly as successful as Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg's zombie movie, manages to mix in a few good gags with the requisite gore. The movie takes aim at one of the easiest real-world scenarios to mock: the so-called "team building" corporate exercise. Many employees working in the corporate culture have suffered through this sort of thing at one time or another (I have, back around 1993) and will recognize how silly the excursions are. Severance takes advantage of the ridiculousness of the situation to provide a satire that, while not as black or edgy as one might expect, nevertheless represents passable entertainment.

The film is presented bookend style, with a campy opening sequence (two blonds and a guy who looks like a couch potato) wrapping around to tie into something that happens near the end. After the flash-forward, we return to the beginning. A sales group from arms contractor Palisades Defense is on a trip to an out-of-the-way lodge in the Hungarian wilderness for a team-building exercise when a fallen tree across the road creates a problem. This results in a long hike during which we get to know key character traits of the main participants. Richard (Tim McInnerny) is the by-the-book stuffed shirt manager. Steve (Danny Dyer) is a frequently stoned slacker with a love of magic mushrooms, Harris (Toby Stephens) is the upwardly mobile cynic, Gordon (Andy Nyman) is the requisite nerd, Jill (Claudie Blakley) is the girl who's not sure about the products the company sells, Maggie (Laura Harris) is a no-nonsense woman with a submerged aggressive side, and Billy (Babou Ceesay) is Richard's gofer, who has a thing for Maggie. Big boss George (David Gilliam) shows up later.

The lodge turns out to be a little less than expected, and, after some flashbacks and dreams, the team building exercise turns into a survival contest (a great way to determine how good co-workers function as a group). The weapons manufacturers become the hunted. There are a bunch of the kind of psychos often found in deeply wooded areas on the loose and their number one goal appears to be eliminating anyone with a British. American, or Canadian accent. For a while, the movie stays in traditional horror territory, with a variety of gory ends for certain characters and plenty of "boo!" moments. Eventually, however, director Christopher Smith (Creep) takes things on an offroad trail leading directly into the land of overkill and camp. The film's momentum picks up as the level of silliness escalates. The best joke comes around this point as George makes a mistake when attempting to use a big-ass rocket launcher to solve the survivors' problems.

Smith understands what fans of the genre expect and uses those expectations to provide many of the punch-lines. For example, everyone knows a movie of this sort must have some gratuitous nudity at some point, and he finds a wink-wink-nudge-nudge way of including it (that doesn't involve either of the female leads). There's a running bit about a severed leg. As with most slasher movies, several of the death scenes are inventive, involving things like bear traps and flamethrowers. The most notable killer moment provides a decapitation with a twist. For anyone who cares, there's even a little bit of political commentary thrown in for good measure, although it's poorly incorporated and distracting. (Maybe someone gave Lars von Trier a page of the script to edit.)

The marketing material for Severance advertises it as "Deliverance meets The Office." That's a little misleading. While I get the freaks-in-the-woods Deliverance reference, there's very little of The Office to be found here. The movie was well enough received to show as a midnight entry at a large number of film festivals and it offers enough elements of both the horror and comedy genres to delight a particular audience. Ultimately, though, the pacing is uneven, leading to a bumpy road where laughter and gore sometimes complement each other and sometimes are at odds. This makes Severance more of a mixed bag than an unqualified success.

Severance (Germany/United Kingdom, 2006)

Run Time: 1:30
U.S. Release Date: 2007-05-18
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1