Monday, April 26, 2010

Archive: "Severance" (2007)

"The company is making cutbacks." This British slasher-comedy is cleverly entitled "Severance," a pun on the office term severance pay, and that's not the only thing that happens to be clever about this movie. Director Chris Smith keeps the laughs and the thrills coming with this hybrid mix of office humor and chilling scares. Although working nine to five may be a real killer, what's even more deadly is going on a team-building trip out in Hungary. Once again, it appears that Eastern Europe is the last place anybody will want to go. Seven employees of an international defense weapons company called Palisade are treated to a weekend away at a newly opened luxury spa, but things go terribly wrong when the coach leaves them and they're left in the mountainous wilderness.

In this group there's the supposed leader of the group, Richard; the babe everybody wants, Maggie; the laid-back guy who does shrooms, Steve; the guy nobody likes, Gordon; the snobby guy who wishes he was in charge, Harris; the stereotypical black guy, Billy; and the somewhat nerdy but nice woman, Jill. The characters are pretty cardboard-cut, but the point of the movie isn't to have any deep character development; they're simply fleshed-out enough to the point that you actually care about them, laugh with them, and get nervous for them. What's especially nice about these characters is that they're not the usual horror movie bunch that always goes in the wrong place to get killed. These people make choices any other person would make, and the circumstances surrounding them just happen to get them killed, not their own stupidity.

After the coach drives off, the group wanders around and ends up a dingy lodge instead of the luxurious spa they were expecting. There is a group of ex-military Russians vowing to kill every Palisade employee who comes through this area. The actual back story is unclear due to the different perspectives from everybody, but what's important is that somebody's out to get them. And so, each member of the group gets picked off in increasingly grisly ways. There's a lot of building-up to this killing, which is good, because then there's actually some suspense and terror instead of just gore. And besides, there really isn't that much gore, which proves that a good slasher flick doesn't have to be all about that. This movie is more frightening than anything like "Hostel: Part II."

The humor that is tossed in between all of the slaughter is well-earned, too. One scene in particular involves Harris talking about how the guillotine is not a quick way to die because the head still thinks for minutes after it's been chopped off. Jill, who he is telling this, thinks he's ridiculous. Next thing we know, Harris gets his head chopped off by the killer, feeling his own head roll away and then watching his bloody stump lie on the ground. He smirks with his now decapitated head knowing that he was right. Another scene involves a misguided rocket launcher, which is downright absurd and hilarious.

"Severance" is a successful crossover film that manages to be both very funny and very scary without ever stooping to that of a satire. I enjoyed this movie not only because it's smart (with a subtle link to the war in Iraq), but also because I've become exhausted with what horror movies have become recently. It's nice to see one back in the classic slasher style, and one that's actually good, too. It's not self-serious either thanks to the fusion of dark comedy. I prefer my horror with a hint of wit, and this clever British import delivers the goods in a harsh but lively style.

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