Ever been down in the woods with a group of people you dislike, wanting to escape and not knowing how to get out? It's not to be recommended, especially in East Europe. You never know who or what you may come across. With Severance, you're in a for a wild ride on a renegade guided missile - and you're the taaaarget.
Palisades, an arms munitions company, takes a dysfunctional team on a corporate retreat in an East Europe forest. The bus they're traveling breaks down. Here the fun begins. They little realize what creatures and traps lie in wait for them. It's that kind of scaaaaary movie. What is lurking in the forest are Terrorists, turned mad by an asylum. They look like Serbians out for revenge on the West.
The film is Office meets Deliverance. The team is a disparate group of individuals - McInnemy's hapless boss, (Notting Hill and Black Adder), Danny Dyer's cockney drug mushroom connoisseur, Claudie Blakely's subversive socialist, Andy Nyman's office geek, Toby Stephens (Die Another Day) arrogant public school boy, the blonde Laura Harris. Try molding these into a team. These characters are very real. You start off hating them, you want to see them die, yet you grow to like them as they face certain death.
Chris Smith, the director, has a sly sense of humor. He takes you down side roads, misleading you, then baaam! He hits you out of the blue with a shocker. The script has smart dialogue, not movie dialogue with one liners. Many Hollywood movies have scripts written with 100s of studio notes that throw the baby out with the bath water. This has a genuine voice - it's funny & scary. Smith teases - how he teases. The office nerd jumps on the diving board over a leaf strewn swimming pool. What lies below the leaves that cover the pool? He tries out various leaps. The tension is unbearable. One of the team walks along a dark corridor in the middle of the night towards the bathroom. He teases, then at the most unexpected moment the film explodes into violence.
The greatest tease was Hitchcock with Psycho - the audience was teased mercilessly - waiting for the next shock. The second time I saw it I knew where the shocks came. The audience was waiting to scream. I suddenly screamed, the audience screamed, nothing happened, the audience laughed to release their tension.
There are great set pieces - a victim gets his leg caught in a bear trap, his friends try to rescue him but make it worse by opening the trap, then letting their hands slip - the trap clangs shut around his leg - he loses his leg - they save it by jamming it into a freezer. Funniest and scariest is Toby Stephens discussing how to invent a humane way of killing. He argues the brain still functions five seconds after death - the French guillotine allowed Marie Antoinette beheaded brain to realize that her head had been cut off. Later we see Stephens get his just desserts, he loses his head, it rolls around in the dirt - his eyes roll around his beheaded head - he can't believe he's dying. It's that kind of movie. In Shawn of the Dead - the horror served the humor. Here the wit, the humor serves the horror.
Few American horror movies achieve this mix (Saw has wit, violence, gore). Smith mixes the laugher with the shocks. He takes a generic story of a group trapped in a situation, and given it a breath of fresh air. He tips his hat to classic movies, using Nosferatu-like images to reveal the torture inflicted on the creatures. The creatures hunting down the team reminds me of Deliverance. The blond Bimbos having to strip to get out of a hole is straight out of a Russ Meyers movie. The gags come from everywhere, and Smith is having fun with us.
Smith has a dab at political satyr - the Palisades boss comes to the rescue of his team with a new rocket launcher - fires it at the Creatures, only to see it miss them and head up into the sky to blow up an airliner. The ominous torture camp, Severance, has the feel of the Holocaust and Serbia, with a rail line heading straight into the camp.
The great horror movies (Exorcist, Deliverance, Psycho, Texas Chainsaw massacre, Saw, Ringu) introduce us to an intriguing world - something we've not seen before. They are bedded in a reality. No special effects, no CGs. Recent horror movies stretch credibility - you think 'give us a fucking break'. We don't care for the characters, they're only there to serve shock & gore. The Horror movie is the hardest genre. It requires a certain élan. Smith has that in spades. He makes it look so easy. Chris, welcome to Hollywood, show the studios how to make a Horror movie.
Five out of five corpses