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Severance
A film review by Tonsofun
 

Horror-Comedies, Comedy-Horrors... What do you call them? Dark Comedies? No... Fargo is a dark Comedy... Withnail & I is a dark comedy... The Ladykillers is a dark comedy... Weekend at Bernie's is... is... woefully misunderstood.

When done flawlessly this can be sublime - step forward An American Werewolf in London. What's that? Can you bring your French cousin with you? Certainly not!! More often than not though, these days what you get representing the genre is a movie pitched as a horror but with lame comedy elements tacked on to either bolster the weak horror, or to try and cover two bases - 'you got something for your horror fans and a few laughs for your comedy fans' CHA-CHING!!

Hollywood churns out this type of movie so regularly that when a true out-and-out 'balls in your face' horror comes along from a Hollywood studio it can really knock you sideways. My own experience of this came when watching the The Hills have Eyes remake - After so many Final Destinations I really wasn't prepared to be shocked dumb by the brutality of it – my jaw resting atop my popcorn.

Movies like Final Destination 2, Hostel, (I certainly remember laughing at Hostel...) often receive criticism along the lines of 'it didn't really know what it was trying to be – funny or scary', and fair enough. But anyone who says that about Severance clearly has no imagination, as like An American Werewolf in London, it tries to be both and succeeds admirably. The scary bits scare, the gory bits are gross, and the laughs are intelligent and beautifully 'played straight' by all.

So it goes a little something like this:

Multinational Weapons company Palisade Defence send their British office to a conference and team building weekend in Eastern Europe. While driving through the woods to the lodge they're staying at, the road is blocked by a fallen tree and they're forced to walk the rest of the way. Instead of making it to their destination, they turn up at a deserted asylum for genocidal ex-soldiers, and mistaking it for their lodge they decide to stay – try the beds out for size – eat some porridge – you know the drill.
The inmates however, are still around, though they've taken to living in the woods these days and picking off travelers in hideously violent ways. It also transpires that these particular soldiers have a particular grudge against this very defense company.
So, twenty minutes in and we know where we are. It's a slasher flick. Most of the people you've just been introduced to are going to be dead by the end of the movie – If you're okay with that, then you're probably going to enjoy yourself , unless the movie turns out to be a half baked pile of crap, but don't worry – it doesn't.

The cast is superb – I don't think you ever for a second really buy this odd group as a bunch of R&D experts from a global arms company but in the scheme of things that doesn't really matter – you buy them as a bunch of people who have a history together – that alone makes them interesting enough to watch, so you're more than willing to take this grisly journey with them.

One of the most inspired pieces of casting in the movie is the wonderful Danny Dyer as Steve. We never really find out what Steve does at the company and he certainly seems to be the odd one out, but the rest of the group's fondness for him helps to gloss over this nicely. Dyer is a likeable sort of geezer, looking like a 16 year old with a hangover, he is to Ray Winstone, what Christian Slater is to Jack Nicholson. He's clearly going to go far, though to half the audience he'll already be something of a star: As the lead in The Football Factory he became a 'public-house'-hold name, but not a lot of people saw it and most of them saw it on dvd. Good film or not, Dyer's laid back style really stood out, and he brings the same inept roguish charm to this movie. Rounding out the cast (and speaking of rounding out) is 'luvvy it's okay to like' Tim McInnerny - looking a bit jowely these days, but that's no bad thing. It certainly helped sell him to me as Richard, the team-leader who has obviously read a few too many management manuals and is barely hanging onto the respect of his team.

Right from the start, tensions are running high in the group. As with any office team there are power struggles and resentments, but there's also sexual tension, even 'class' tension. The film uses every conceivable angle to get you on the edge of that flip up seat then pops the bubble with either a laugh or a death – either way the release is often exquisite.

Severance has been unofficially billed as Deliverance meets The Office, but it really has more in common with Dog Soldiers and An American Werewolf in London. Apart from one distinctly dodgy gag involving an aeroplane (you'll know it when you see it) the comedy is pitched perfectly to sit alongside the horror – most memorably there are two dismemberment gags in the space of 10 minutes and both are absolute corkers.

So it's a comedy/horror – horror/comedy. If you like Horror will you like it? Damn right, it's a cracking little horror movie. Granted it's not doing anything new or clever (unless like me you count making a good modern British horror movie as a bit clever), but it's also not trying to do something it hasn't got the budget to pull off. If comedy is your thing will you like it? That depends if you like your comedy washed down with a spot of the old ultraviolence. You do?? Well that's just wonderful...

Severance

UK 2006
95 mins
director
Christopher Smith
producer
Jason Newmark
screenplay
james Moran
Christopher Smith
cinematography
Ed Wild
editor
Stuart Gazzard
music.
Christian Henson
production design
John Frankish
starring
Danny Dyer
laura Harris
Tim McInnerny
Toby Stephens
Claudie Blakley
Andy Nyman
Babou Ceesay
review posted
13 September 2006