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Severance (2007)

Reviewed By MP Bartley
Posted 09/12/06 19:19:28

"When will people learn? NEVER GO INTO THE WOODS - EVER."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

When 'Severance' achieves a wide release, there'll be a lot of reviews claiming it as the new 'Shaun of the Dead'. It isn't, and that's mainly for two reasons - firstly, as a horror comedy 'Shaun of the Dead' firmly established itself as a comedy in a horror setting, whilst 'Severance' is clearly a horror with comic elements. Secondly, it's just not as good as 'Shaun of the Dead' - but that's not to say it's without its merits.

One of these merits is that it presents us with a situation that we'll all be familiar with - the staff teambuilding weekend. We've probably all worked at some point for some horribly dull job that usually involves retail and meeting weekly targets, and we're therefore all in a position to recognise the patronising kind of teambuilding exercises management force upon us that are more likely to breed resentment and hostility than togetherness.

In 'Severance' the firm is the British arms sellers, Palisade Defence, who have sent a small group to Eastern Europe for a weekend, although as their coach driver gets them lost they can only guess as to where they are - probably Hungary. The group includes the patronising leader Richard (Tim McInnerny), lazy slacker Steve (Danny Dyer), American visitor Maggie (Laura Harris), sleazy university graduate Harris (Toby Stephens) and the annoyingly cheery Gordon (Andy Nyman), who eventually do manage to find their lodge in the middle of nowhere. But all is not well - the lodge and area in which they are staying has a reputation for grisly deaths (in one of the films best sequences, we get three possible explanations for the lodge's history), and before long, people are seeing things hiding in the woods and then the killings start.

The set-up then, is not too removed from 'Hostel' - smug, know-it-all westerners get their come up when they stray far from home. But whereas 'Hostel' just smacked you over the head with its unpleasantness for little point or effect, 'Severance' sells itself much more skillfully. It skates between horror and comedy with great effectiveness, and is the kind of film that is best seen after reading as few reviews as possible - the moments that get the big laughs are so creatively sprung, you really don't want them spoiled for you. Suffice to say, there is a wound inflicted on one character which we've all seen before, but not in such a brutally funny fashion, and part of the group's fightback includes using a device that results in one of the best out-of-leftfield gags this critic has ever seen.

But 'Severance' does favour scares and gore over jokes, and does well on this front too. It does resort to a couple of "Boo!" moments, but does it with cleverness, not cheapness, and combined with horrific use of guts and gore captures a rising sense of dread and panic that creates a genuinely suspenseful climax. The cast aquit themselves well, particularly the gratingly optimistic Nyman and McInnerny (recognisable from the BBC's 'Black Adder' series) doing a great David Brent impression. Harris (series two of '24') is a great heroine, particularly when she tools up and fights back, while Dyer gets all the best lines as Steve. It's just a shame that Dyer is trotting out the lairy-cockney-wide-boy-geezer schtick that he's used so many times before that it's starting to have a whiff of staleness to it.

I saw 'Severance' on a double bill with 'Snakes on a Plane' and while the latter was a smug, forced, joyless mess, the former has everything that it lacked - namely wit, energy and creativity. 'Severance' may have only a miniscule portion of the hype and marketing that 'Snakes on a Plane' received, but it is infinitely the better film. So make sure that when (or if) 'Severance' gets a wider release, you help the box office show it.

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