Review: Severance

Posted by Peter Hall - December 26th 2006 @ 10:35 pm

Directed by Christopher Smith, 2006
Written by Christopher Smith and James Moran

Severance UK Poster

Judging by how many people ask me where the image at the top of the site came from, Christopher Smith’s first film, Creep, never really reached the audience it deserved to.  However, The UK’ers sophomore film, Severance, undoubtedly will.  It is a simple and affable horror/comedy that isn’t too juvenile nor too jokey, but with just the right balance of bloody good laughs.

Smith and Moran’s script takes the inherently comical scenario of a corporate retreat/team building exercise and plants the uneager Palisade’s Defense employees in the middle of Eastern Europe.  Of course the bus breaks down on the way, stranding the predictably rag-tag bunch at a crusty old lodge which clearly isn’t their resort.

Speculation abounds as to what exactly their current locale was once used for, but swift developments soon point to the ‘ex-insane asylum for psychotic Soviet war criminals who all conveniently happen to hate Pallisade Defense and have spent years lying in wait for their chance at revenge’.  You know, that old bag.

The cast of characters themselves aren’t too original.  There is the dimwitted boss who everyone, save for the suckups, loathes.  There is the slick, handsome wanna-be exec who is above the whole route.  Then there are the rest of the drones: a brainy type chic, a pair of brown nosers, the office hottie, and a stoner.  While the characters may waffle in and out of predictability, their respective quirks work well enough to bring the funny every time the script calls for it.

And the script is funny.  Some of the jokes hit harder than others, but for the most part every gag has its appropriate pay off.  In the beginning, it’s all for chuckles, but as the running time ages, so does the film’s darkness.  And in short order legs are being severed, heads are flying, and suits are generally being drenched in red.

Here is where I, once again, enter the minority.  I really dug Severance.  I dug its style and I dug its flavor, but at the end of the day I wasn’t nearly as floored as I was hoping to be.  It had a riotous trailer – and has certain riotous moments – but as a whole it never fully strikes that tone perfect homogenization of horror and comedy Smith obviously aimed for.  But I’ll admit this is almost entirely due to the fact that I found the main character, the aforementioned stoner, tiresome and not nearly as much of a lark as he was supposed to be.  The rest of the script culls together enough off the wall tragedy to be worth your 90 minutes on more than one occasion.

But if you watch it in a group, any shortcomings Severance has will be drown out by laughs fueled by jokes and gore alike.  Plus, you get to see someone try to fit a leg into a mini fridge!  And for this alone, Christopher Smith has extended my love for him indefinitely.

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  1. R.J. Sayer
    December 27th, 2006 | 3:22 pm | #1


    i thought this thing blew CREEP right out of the water. and i really, really felt that it definitely hit that perfect mark; that balance. the camerawork, the respect given to characters and audience alike through the script (especially that one death scene… won’t spoil it, but i think you know what i’m talking about), the way it totally messed with your expectations at every turn (the spider, the diving board, etc.).

    i especially appreciated how the stoner character was handled, and how they treated drug use in general. very realistic and not too cheeky.

    the whole thing just felt so… laughably genuine… hysterically real. one moment in particular i think sums it up: when the stoner is running and stops, and hesitates, then turns back like he’s going to help out… and then seems to have that moment of clarity (“what the hell do i think i’m doing?”) and returns to fleeing. it just… made so much sense and seemed so… honest.

    oh and those “flasbacks” during the story-telling part… CLASSIC.

  2. R.J. Sayer
    December 27th, 2006 | 3:25 pm | #2

    although i must say that i’m glad you liked it… despite everyone (myself included) talking it up way beyond the limitations of simple “hype.”

    and yes, definitely worth more than one viewing.

    and i’m sure that part of my enthusiasm about it comes from the fact that i watched it in a crowded theatre at a midnight festival screening.

  3. December 28th, 2006 | 3:27 pm | #3

    I wish I could have caught it at a festival. It was at the Chicago International Film Festival (and if I remember right, was the only midnight film whose program material I didn’t write), but it was the playing the second week and I was only there for the first.


  4. PT
    December 31st, 2006 | 9:45 am | #4

    Saw this a while back in cinemas, really liked it, a lot more so than Creep. Personaly i think Danny Dyer is one of the most charismatic actors since Bruce Cambpell. As for the film i thought once the soldiers were revealed the film lost the tone it set up well the first half. And for the last line i was thinking if he says “threesome” this film will have been awesome.

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