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Severance - Review

Danny Dyer in Severance

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary by Christopher Smith (director), James Moran (writer), John Frankish (production designer), Danny Dyer, Tim McInnerny, Babou Ceesay and Andy Nyman; Deleted scenes with optional commentary; Making of Severance featurette; Being Danny Dyer; Not so special effects; The Genesis of Severance; The Coach; Outtakes; The Bearpit animatics; Palisade corporate video; Alternate ending storyboard; UK theatrical trailer.

IT TAKES balls to juggle so many elements in one movie but Chris Smith proves himself up to the task in Severance, a bloodthirsty horror-comedy-cum-romantic-post-9/11 thriller that’s being pitched as The Office meets Deliverance.

The director appears to be revelling in the challenge and while Severance draws on countless horror classics and cliches, the parts have seldom been assembled as impressively as this.

Severance pretty much does everything it sets out to – it scares, it amuses, it gets your stomach churning and leaves your jaw on the floor, while simultaneously delivering a diverse set of characters that you’ll either love to hate or be hopelessly rooting for.

The film follows the fortunes of a small group of office workers from weapons company Palisade Defence who are on a team-building exercise deep in the mountains of Eastern Europe.

After being stranded by their coach driver, the team find themselves shacked up at a rundown concrete lodge and being stalked by a war-crazed group of maniacs with a thirst for blood and very painful death.

The office workers in question include a happy go-lucky everyman (Danny Dyer), a sexy American (Laura Harris), an office geek (Andy Nyman) and a posh graduate (Toby Stephens), as well as their awkward, bumbling boss (Tim McInnerny, who’s every bit as cringe-inducing as Ricky Gervais).

Smith’s movie kicks off with a pre-credits slaughter sequence that really sets the standard for the tension and blood-letting to follow.

It then changes pace slightly to introduce his characters, establish friendships and potential hostilities, before really going for it during the inevitable run for survival finale.

Yet while the scenario is certainly over-familiar, audiences will find themselves in a state of breathless excitement as Smith mixes genres with glee.

The nods to other horror movies – from Nosferatu to The Texas Chainsaw Massacre – come thick and fast but seldom feel like rip-offs thanks to the director’s ability to put a different spin on them.

While the gallows humour is almost always spot-on, capably drawing plenty of uneasy laughs to lighten the tension.

The violence, when it comes, is as extreme and unflinching as last year’s The Descent but it’s somehow tempered by the black humour that surrounds it.

And the nods to current events are as audacious as they are pertinent, particularly given that Smith (and chief screenwriter James Moran) have chosen to make his victims weapons manufacturers.

Hell, the director even finds time to inject a little romance into proceedings, with Dyer and Harris building some nice “will they/won’t they” chemistry.

Severance isn’t entirely without criticism, of course, and Smith comes perilously close to losing control towards the end (especially in his controversial decision to include the blowing up of a 747 passenger plane as a passing sight gag).

His use of violence towards women in this and his debut feature, Creep, is also a concern.

But thanks to the sheer ballsiness of the screenplay and the dedication of the performers, all of whom excel, audiences should be having too much fun laughing and shrieking to hold too much against it.

Severance does, at the end of the day, provide a bloody good rollercoaster ride that’s capable of transcending its genre boundaries. It deserves a very wide audience.

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Read our interview with Chris Smith

Certificate: 15
Running time: 95mins

  1. “His use of violence towards women in this and his debut feature, Creep, is also a concern.”

    How is it a concern? What did you expect? Should they have bought them a drink? Would the movie be any better if there were no women in it?

    Editor's reply: In Creep, one of the most chilling scenes involved the killer performing a caesarean on a female victim with a very large, rusty, serrated blade. At the screening I attended, two women walked out. In Severance, a female victim is tied to a tree, covered in petrol and then tormented with several matches before being ignited by a flame thrower. In both instances, the director appeared to dwell on the deaths. In a society where violence is ever-increasing (often towards women), such gratuitous scenes could set trends. The same sort of criticisms apply to recent horror films such as The Hills Have Eyes. I know horror, by definition, has to be horrific to be effective. But it should also be the responsibility of directors not to give potentially twisted minds even sicker ideas. reader    Aug 27    #
  2. As a former psych patient, criminologist, and future Horror filmmaker I can honestly say you don’t have to worry about us giving sociopaths ideas. Have you turned on CNN of late? This is Smith’s point, and gender is hardly on attack when a weapons manufacturer employee is doused in oil and set ablaze. If you wanna go after anyone for misodgyny let it be Aja for rape being the centerpiece of his films. Smith makes movies that serve both plot and the love of the genre which I can’t say for many modern films (let alone Horror). Where the vengeful mutants in Hills Have Eyes seem forced the antagonists in Severance are not so. We know from history that many a man has returned from war unable to shut off their military conditioning. Everyone picks on Creep because 1) it’s a monster movie and 2) the characters if not completely unlikable are deeply flawed (which is also the point). I think both films are reinforcement for what people should know already, watch Chris Smith, because he’s one of the guys saving Horror from the likes of Eli Roth and modern soulless genre crap. So don’t worry about this man or others giving crazy people fantastical ideas of homicide. Leave it to your government, their parents, and most importantly themselves to think of ways to purge their rage. They’re usually pretty good at coming up with that stuff all on their own.

    S.T.    Aug 28    #
  3. What about the violence towards women in The Descent?

    Editor's note: First of all, I have to say I'm enjoying this debate, so thanks for participating. Secondly, re The Descent, the violence towards women is not sexual but based on an instinct to survive. The creatures in that film are acting on instinct and kill to survive. Had it been an all-male cast, their fates would have been the same. It remains one of the very best horror films of recent years - something Severance deserves to be considered in the same bracket with, criticisms aside. Andrew Foster    Aug 28    #
  4. I think you’ve been biased by Creep (which I didn’t see) into seeing sexist violence in Severance that doesn’t exist. One female character dies, yes, but it's surely the quickest of all the deaths in the movie. The film spends a lot of time dwelling on male characters in extreme pain. She dies painlessly. Yes, we see her frightened, but all the characters are frightened, and hers is the opposite of a scream queen role. 75% of the female characters in this movie survive, and the one that dies, dies bloodlessly! It looks like the director took criticism of Creep on board. I hope you’ll revise your views a bit. Thanks for the interesting debate.

    dk1    Aug 29    #