Tim McInnerny as Richard
Laura Harris as Maggie
Danny Dyer as Steve
Toby Stephens as Harris
Claudie Blakley as Jill
Andy Nyman as Gordon
Babou Ceesay as Billy
David Gilliam as George
Juli Drajkó as Olga
Judit Viktor as Nadia
Sándor Boros as Coach Driver
Levente Törköly as Lodge Killer
János Oláh as Flamethrower Killer
Attila Ferencz as Head-squish Killer
Bela Kasi as Headbutt Killer
Directed by Christopher Smith
Another clever horror flick from the UK, inserting the funniest bits of British comedy into the type of gory slasher flick that will make even the most jaded horror fan giddy.
A group of workers at the British division of Paragon Defense take a team-building trip to the woods of Hungary only to find themselves being stalked and killed by a group of angry war criminals.
With the current wave of what some have dubbed “torture porn”, the thoughts of another movie about a group of travelers that wind up in the wrong place at the wrong time as they’re systematically stalked and slaughtered might seem like a waste of time and money. “Severance” deviates far enough away from the formula thanks to its healthy dose of humor without necessarily being a parody, and that humor is what keeps it from being another stomach-churning bit of exploitation for the sake of entertainment.
Despite the prevalent humor, director Christopher Smith insures that his audience is on board from the beginning with an opening scene right out of “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” as two panicky semi-clad women and a middle-aged man run thorough a forest before the latter falls into a spring trap and gutted as the dulcet tones of the Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park” cuts to a bus driving through the same Eastern European woodlands where we meet the members of the British office of Paragon Defense, on their way to a team-building weekend at the company’s “luxury villa” in the woods. Things immediately start to go wrong as they’re forced to walk the last few miles and are left stranded at lodging that isn’t nearly as luxurious as anyone expected. After strange company files are found on the site, they start formulating ideas of the place’s origins as strange things start happening, including the sighting of mysterious masked characters that may be spying on them.
Here’s where things start to go the way of the typical horror-slasher flick, as these masked antagonists, presumed to be Balkan war criminals, start to take out the colleagues one-by-one, which forces them to really start acting like a team. The setting gives the movie a feel more like “Deliverance” than “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” but there’s a similar sense of confusion in not knowing what is going on or what will happen next. All of it is very tongue-in-cheek but it’s no less bloody than one might expect with severed limbs, beheadings and a sharp knife in a very bad spot to put a knife.
Smith is a smart director who understands how keeping things light and funny makes the gore and horror that much more effective, creating tense and suspense in humorous ways with a few red herrings that will get giggles and sighs of relief once one realizes the ruse. Things go on like that for a while as everyone gets settled, but the shenanigans that come from the group’s paintball team-building exercise is very likely to put viewers off-guard for the terror that’s to come, even if there’s plenty of room for comedy as everyone is forced to run for their lives or fight back against their mysterious assailants.
Comparisons to “The Office” are fairly spot-on in that the relationship between the dysfunctional co-workers is the driving force of the movie. There’s something to be said about a horror movie that doesn’t rely on names or faces to keep you interested, and Smith has assembled a strong group of actors to create these fun archetypes. It’s a smart move and a step above the Hollywood slasher fare that relies on pretty young things who don’t always have the acting chops of this cast. It’s hard to pick personal favorites, but “Severance” creates a couple stars in Danny Dyer as the womanizing stoner whose early bit of “tripping” provides a good amount of quirky humor, while Laura Harris (“24″) plays Maggie, a perky blonde American who proves her mettle as a strong horror movie heroine from the Jamie Lee Curtis mold. Former “Blackadder” star Tim McInnerny, the clear veteran of the group, steps to the plate as the group’s wishy-washy office manager, whose just as funny in his incompetence as Michael Scott, while Andy Nyman gets the strongest laughs as the over-achieving Gordon, constantly brown-nosing the boss and the able butt of many of the group’s jokes, even after having his leg gets caught in a bear trap left lying around by the killers. The group is rounded out by Toby Stephens, Claudie Blakley and Babou Ceesay, who all provide important roles in the dynamics of the movie as an ensemble comedy, as well as providing the type of slasher fodder you actually miss once they’re gone.
The Bottom Line:
Once again, the UK shows how its filmmakers have a much better handle on keeping quality horror alive with ideas that are far more clever and entertaining than their Hollywood counterparts–Eli Roth being one of the few exceptions–and “Severance” delivers the sort of entertaining ride that horror fans will appreciate. If you’re not into gory horror movies, you might want to give “Severance” a pass, because even with all of its hilarious character humor, they’re likely to get freaked out once the blood starts splattering.