Severance (2006), directed by Christopher Smith, written by James Moran and Christopher Smith, with Toby Stephens, Claudie Blakley, Andy Nyman, Babou Ceesay, Tim McInnemy, Laura Harris, Danny Dyer and David Gilliam
Alright, picture this.
You’ve got this mishmash of characters: the stoner/horndog, the pretty young woman, the creepy middle-aged upper-level management type and his borderline mentally-retarded lackey. All work together for an international arms company based in England. They’re on a team-building exercise in Romania.
Oh yeah, you’ve got this fairly sensible and intelligent woman. Not particularly attractive — actually kind of frumpy — but not ugly. Just homely enough that you feel bad for her.
So they’re on this retreat in the middle of the woods in Eastern Europe and surprise!
There’s a killer on the loose! If this was a horror movie, who do you think gets knocked off first?
Anyone who’s seen a slasher film would probably guess the older guy, the boss — or maybe the druggie, right?
That’s what I would have guessed too. Then I watched Severance, a 2006 UK slasher film currently available as an Instant Watch selection through Netflix.
What makes Severance stand out against other cookie cutter horror movies is its unpredictability. That’s a good element for a slasher film to have, in a genre that tends to stick to the formula of nice guys (or girls) finish last.
Severance surprised me. More than just that, it was off-beat, irreverent and frequently hilarious. I can always tell I enjoyed a movie if I sit through at least a portion of the credits. Unlike many of the movies I watch and write about, Severance did not have me immediately hitting stop on the remote control the moment it was over.
Yet, while Severance was pretty light fair, it got me thinking about the slasher genre — a genre in which filmmakers usually go out of their way to make sure you don’t feel the slightest bit of empathy for the victims. Portraying the hapless souls who are sliced, diced, hacked into pieces, as “bad people,” the formula puts you in the shoes of the killer.
Finally you get to the “end girl” — the one person on whom the movie maker allows you to take pity — there’s a reversal and you’re on the side of the victim.
It’s an effective formula. It works. It’s comfortable — and when a movie deviates from the formula it’s pretty jarring.
Severance introduces you to a cast of pretty likable people and proceeds to kill them off in fairly cruel ways and not in the order you would expect. Severance had me laughing one second and cringing the next. I found myself wondering what the filmmakers were going for. Black humor or straight horror? A little of both? It worked for Shaun of the Dead, which plays like a romantic comedy for its first third and a straight horror movie for the rest.
It takes skill to pull off this type of genre jumping. As a slasher film, Severance is A CUT ABOVE THE REST. HAR HAR HAR!
No. Seriously. Check it out. If you’re a Netflix subscriber, click here to add it to your instant queue.