The freakishly amusing British import known as Severance and I have a rather colorful history together. In the interest of full disclosure, I'll explain how. In September of 2006 I saw the film at the Toronto Film Festival. (I even wrote a little bit about it on this very blog. And then I reviewed it for a different website.) A few weeks later I saw the film again at the Alamo Drafthouse's (awesome) Fantastic Fest. It was there that I got to meet Jimmy Moran, the crazy bloke who wrote Severance. He mentioned that he'd read my comments, appreciated the kind words, and that he'd like to drink several beers with me. And drink we did.
Then a few weeks ago the producer of the South By Southwest Film Festival asked me if I'd write up the "festival guide synopsis" for Severance, and so I did. During the festival I introduced the film to 300 raving gorehounds. Far as I could tell, they all liked the flick a whole lot. So that's three Severance screenings at three separate festivals, a new friend in the screenwriter and a bunch of fun stuff on the side. (Plus it'll be there when I cover next month's Philadelphia Film Festival. I just cannot escape this movie!) Basically, me and Severance go way back. But what I remember most from that first screening way back in Toronto is this: "Damn, this is a fun movie."
It's just a simple story: A bunch of co-workers, deep in the woods for a "team-building" retreat, are trapped, stalked and demolished by a raving psychopath. Actually, make that four or five raving psychopaths. And I'm not talking about bag-headed inbreds with pitchforks, either. I'm talking about organized and seriously well-armed commando-type psychopaths, the kind that like to make you squirm just a little before ripping your neck out with a bear trap. Big fun, basically, and doubly so because Severance is sort of two movies in one.
In your basic slasher flick, there are generally two halves. The first half is known as "Boringsville," because that's when we get to meet the empty-headed, vacuous and personality-deficient automatons who exist only to get slaughtered in exceedingly graphic fashion. The second half of a slasher flick is what's known as "fun," in that we now get to watch all those dimbulbs and bimbos get hacked, cracked and seriously whacked. Slasher flicks aren't all that interested in "character development," nor are they very good at it. But Severance bucks the trend by making its characters (get this) funny!
The co-workers, you see, are employed by one of the planet's leading weapons manufacturers, which makes it easy to root for their eventual demise while being generally amused by their sarcastic British banter and quick-witted bickering. Of course a few of the folks are actually kinda cool (the angel-faced Laura Harris and the drugged-out Danny Dyer make for a fantastic team), but most of the players are very amusingly annoying. So that gives us both a rooting interest and some make-believe bloodlust for...
The second-half mayhem parade! And let's just say that Severance has three or four sequences that you'll definitely be talking about as you leave the back of the theater. (Keep an eye out for the pie, the bear, the hatchet and the rocket launcher.) Director Christopher Smith (improving upon his pretty solid Creep debut) might have front-loaded his flick with chuckles and back-loaded it with carnage, but both of the flavors work so well, you won't mind that you can spot the seams.
With The Host, The Signal and Severance under their belt, I'm fully convinced that someone over at Magnolia Pictures' horror division really knows their stuff. Severance has been compared to The Office, Deliverance and even Shaun of the Dead, but it's actually just an old-school slasher flick with a really quick sense of broad British wit, a whole lot of energy, and a seriously strong cast. It's gory, it's silly and it's quite entertaining. I've seen it enough times to know, trust me.