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Severance (A Movie Review)


Starring Laura Harris, Danny Dyer, Tim McInnerny, Toby Stephens, Claudie Blakley, Andy Nyman, Babou Ceesay, Juli Drajkó, Judit Victor and David Gilliam.

Screenplay by James Moran and Christopher Smith.

Directed by Christopher Smith.

Distributed by Magnolia Films. 91 minutes. Rated R.

Severance asks the tongue-in-cheek question – if you take a cheesy horror movie and add a whole bunch of respected British actors (mostly recognizable but none of them exactly household names) and a whole load of attitude and gallows humor – do you still come out with a cheesy slasher film?

Surprisingly, no, you don't – at least not necessarily. If you take Severance seriously as a movie, you'll get nowhere. It makes no sense. There are huge plot holes and gaps of logic. Much of the story is predictable. The violence and gore are way over the top.

However, thankfully the makers of Severance didn't take themselves too seriously, so why should we?

Severance starts from a wonderfully simple premise. A group of employees of an international arms dealer are in the midst of a corporate getaway deep in the woods of Hungary to learn about teamwork. In a turn of events which strains credulity (oh, let's face it, nearly all of the turns of events in Severance strain credulity) the group is let off in the middle of the woods and forced to hike miles to their "luxury resort."

They finally end up in a cobwebby old compound in the woods – but is this the resort?

Thus begins an unholy marriage of The Office (the British version, natch...) and The Hills Have Eyes.

It turns out the place is owned by the company, so they all assume it is the right place, despite the fact that the place would have to take a few giant steps to make it to a level of rustic. Records suggest that this place may have once been an insane asylum – and there may have been some kind of violent incident there years before (the era-specific flashbacks to the possible histories of the place, including a silent movie version and a groovy psychedelic 60s take are some of the most mischievously fun moments here.).

Of course, being a horror film, quickly mysterious sounds are emanating from the night, weird shapes are being seen out in the woods and there are signs that they are being watched. People start dying in dramatic manners.

Their leader (Tim McInnerny of Notting Hill) tries to keep up morale as the body count mounts. Included in amongst them are a whole group of corporate types – the personable druggie (Danny Dyer of The Other Half), the hardened woman (Laura Harris of 24 and Dead Like Me), the competent-but-selfish take-charge guy (Toby Stephens of Die Another Day), the nerdy girl (Claudie Blakley of Pride and Prejudice), the yes-man (Andy Nyman of the up-coming Death at a Funeral), the horn-dog partier (David Gilliam) and the shy-but-smart guy (Babou Ceesay).

Though they are playing types, the fine acting and attention to detail in the script keep them from being merely stereotypes. Late in the film, they run across a couple of surprisingly stalwart (and often scantily dressed) local escorts (Juli Drajkó and Judit Victor) to help them in their efforts to survive. While none of the corporate characters are supposed to be exactly likable – in fact in most ways all of them are just different variations of assholes – the characters resonate enough that we do care when they meet their slightly cartoonish fates. (We never get to see enough of the call girls – except of course in the cleavage area – to build up much feeling about them one way or the other.)

In fact, the characters are all killed and threatened in imaginative ways, many of these threats created directly by the employers of the group – including bear traps, land mines, poisonous spiders, blow torches, submachine guns, and machetes. There is even a shockingly black comic moment about a guided missile.

The anti-Blair and anti-American sentiment – suggesting that these victims are on some level just elitists who create killing machines without even trying to understand the cultures and environments surrounding them – is a little heavy-handed, even when it is often legitimately earned. Also, in the end, it all does seem to be, despite the best of intentions, a series of unnecessarily gruesome set pieces.

Even graded on the curve of its quirky sensibility, it's hard to exactly call Severance a very good film. However, it is a better movie than it really has any right to be. (5/07)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2007 All rights reserved. Posted: May 24, 2007.


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