Humour and horror blend perfectly (for once) in the Brit director's slasher tour-de-force.
Harking back to the bad old days when camping in the deep dark woods meant certain death, a group of employees from an international weapons business, Palisade Arms, are rewarded for their hard work touting their wares around Europe with a team building weekend at the company’s luxury lodge on the Serbian, Hungarian and Yugoslavian border. The usual bunch of assorted misfits and weirdoes travel on a coach through the wilds of Eastern Europe: from the ‘Mockney’ lad Steve (Danny Dyer), who spends the whole journey popping magic mushrooms (to try and block out the company’s promo videos "Time out on terror!"); to the uptight team-leader Richard (Tim McInnerny) (who could give David Brent a run for the money in the cringe-worthy stakes with such bile inducing moral boosters as “I can't spell success without "u". And you, and you, and you...”), and a terminally jolly team builder Gordon (Andy Nyman).
When a fallen tree blocks the road, the driver (who doesn’t speak a word of English) unceremoniously dumps the passengers at the side of the road after a screaming row with Richard. Despite grumbles, the group continue on foot and eventually find the lodge – only it’s not quite the luxurious abode they’d been led to expect. The group ignores Steve’s seemingly paranoid ramblings (he says he spotted someone in the woods, "I saw a man with a balaclava and a suitcase – no more a travel bag!"). The only American on the tour, Maggie (Laura Harris), reassures him that he’s only seeing things because he’s stoned ...
Things take a turn for the weird(er) when another member of the group, Harris (Toby Stephens), finds papers purporting to show Palisade Industries involvement in war atrocities. Jill (Claudie Blakley) (who is something of an oddity in the group, as she's paid to research non-lethal land mines) says that after the war the Government set up asylums to try and rehabilitate the men that had been conditioned as killing machines – but when they realised that wouldn’t work they tried to hunt them down and silence them for good using Palisade Industry weapons. Only rumour goes they didn’t capture all of them. Soon the group realise they are very much in the wrong place at the wrong time ...
Director, Christopher Smith, has managed to pull off the almost impossible: a horror / comedy film that is both funny and horrific. It’s certainly far more accomplished than his earlier slasher flick CREEP (2004) – which was a hit or miss affair with its cat ‘n’ mouse theatrics (more miss if truth be told). It’d be tempting to suggest SEVERANCE does for the slasher flick what SHAUN OF THE DEAD (2004) did for the zombie genre. Certainly, they both share a black slice of British humour – only the humour in SEVERANCE is - as Nick Cave once so memorably put it - blacker than the chambers of a dead nun's heart. That this succeeds both as a comedy and a horror film is even more remarkable given that whilst the majority of the horror is played straight, some is very much played for laughs (including a particularly painful machete to the arse scene (which would be a first had it not been for a very similar scene in Dominick Brascia's surprisingly proto-post modern slasher EVIL LAUGH (1988)).
Part of SEVERANCE’s saving grace is that the violence is so graphic and absurd it is pure Grand Guignol. In another eye-watering scene, one character has his leg caught in a bear trap; his colleagues try and free him, but every time they get it open it snaps back in place, further digging into his leg until it is finally severed. In one especially inventive touch, one character discusses with another how a severed head is conscious for up to three minutes – and, sure enough, when he has his head whacked off with a machete it comes to rest so he can see his still twitching body (and his eyebrow raises in approval that his theory was right).
And, make no mistake, SEVERANCE is brutal. It fits right in with the graphic and sadistic genre films that have been so much in vogue for the past few years (like SAW (2004), HOSTEL (2005), THE HILLS HAVE EYES (redux) (2006)). Whilst many comedy horror films ultimately loose their bite, Smith walks the tightrope between terror and farce incredibly well. The only downsides are that the villains (when revealed) are mere ciphers - with all the personality of video game baddies. Smith makes no attempt to delve into their psyche or further into their background beyond a one-dimensional desire for revenge. Plus, the humour may not translate successfully to all American audiences - but those that do get it will love it I'm sure. Also, fans of old-time exploitation pictures will especially dig the scene where two busty models have to strip naked and use all their clothes to construct a ladder to escape from a trap!
Like all of the best horror (and comedy), SEVERANCE has satirical bite. Whilst, ostensibly, it is the age-old story of city types being hunted down and by psychotic country folk, it also acts as an indictment of greed and the arms trade – with the employees of Palisade being stalked and dismembered by the very people whose weapons were used to eliminate them. The film also has the balls to aim higher (quite literally) when a rocket launcher goes badly wrong. Again, like all classic horror movies SEVERANCE truly reflects these crazy, fucked up times we live in – and comes highly recommended.
female:1 / male:12
1) Male decapitated with machete
2) Female burnt to death
3) Male has chest mutilated
4) Male shot in the stomach
5) Male stabbed through with machete and shot in the head
6) Male shot with shotgun
7, 8 & 9) Male blown up
10) Male has bowie knife shoved up his arse!
11) Male has head pulverised with rock
12) Male machine-gunned
13) Male machine-gunned