Directed By: Christopher Smith
Starring: Danny Dyer, Laura Harris, Tim McInnerny
Tag line: "The Company Is Making Cutbacks"
Trivia: The actor who plays the irate bus driver, Sándor Boros is a Hungarian stunt driver, and it is he who drives the bus during the crash scene
Striking the perfect balance between horror and comedy can be a tricky thing. Quite often, the jokes take the sting off of the scares, resulting in a picture that might make you laugh, but won’t give you nightmares. Severance, a 2006 British film directed by Christopher Smith, is a rare exception; a movie with just the right amount of humor that still sends chills up your spine.
Several executives working for the London division of Pallisades, one of the world’s largest weapons manufacturers, head to the wilderness of Eastern Europe for a team-building weekend. Led by their boss, the sometimes confused Richard (Tim McInnerny), the group, which includes Richard’s well-informed assistant Billy (Babou Caesay); the overly-excited yes-man Gordon (Andy Nyman); the office prick, Harris (Toby Stephens); the socially conscious Jill (Claudie Blakely); the hot blonde Maggie (Laura Harris); and Steve (Danny Dyer), who’s just ingested a bagful of “magic” mushrooms, make the long trek to the lodge (the bus that drove them to the area refused to take them the entire way, forcing the group to walk the last couple of miles). Once they arrive at their destination, a few point out that the building doesn’t look anything like a luxury lodge. They believe it’s actually the former mental facility located nearby, which, rumor has it, used to treat ex-soldiers who enjoyed killing a bit too much. Adding to the overall creepiness is the fact someone… or something… is lurking in the surrounding woods, watching every move the co-workers make.
With such funnymen as Tim McInnerny (a regular in the Blackadder series) and Danny Dyer (who was the lead in another horror / comedy, 2009’s Doghouse) on hand, Severance was bound to have its share of hilarious moments. The early scenes where Dyer’s Steve is suffering the after-effects of the mushrooms gets the comedy off to a good start (aside from being led around on a leash by Maggie to ensure he doesn’t wander off, Steve also complains about feeling “damp”, wondering aloud if he’s just pissed his pants). But it’s the give-and-take between all the characters that really gets the laughs rolling (while on the bus, Richard and the others watch one of Pallisades’ promotional videos, during which Jill notices everyone in the commercial is white and blonde, telling Richard “You’ve made a recruitment video for the Hitler Youth!”)
Yet, as good as the comedy is, Severance is even more effective when it’s trying to scare the shit out of you, with scenes ranging from the mildly repulsive (searching through the refrigerator, Gordon comes across a pie, which he cooks and serves to everyone. When Steve bites into it, he finds a human tooth) to full-fledged panic (the mysterious being in the woods makes its presence known in a big way, dousing a character in gasoline, then setting them ablaze with a flamethrower). There’s even a sequence or two where horror and comedy are served up in equal doses (when one character’s head is cut off, the camera switches to a POV shot, looking through the unfortunate victim’s eyes. After rolling down a hill, the head comes to rest in the perfect position to see its own headless corpse).
Mixing laughs with some damn eerie moments, Severance is a movie that gets both right.