"Three stars (R)
In the mood for something different? Severance takes two genres, comedy and horror, and tries to do justice to both. The result is odd, but generally entertaining. Be ready for some flat spots amidst the scares and laughs, as well as a fair amount of gore.
Some reviewers have called the movie a cross between The Office and Friday the 13th. The comparisons aren’t fair — the movie isn’t nearly as smart or well-observed as The Office or as stupid as Friday the 13th — but it gives you an idea of what to expect.
British director Christopher Smith (Creep) is sharp enough to realize that for a slasher movie to pay off with a broader audience, viewers have to be invested enough in the characters for their deaths to matter. He also understands that for a comedy/horror hybrid to work, the formula aspects of the movie must remain dominant so that it doesn’t matter too much.
Most importantly, Smith recognizes that employees of a multinational arms dealer make better victims than horny teenagers.
The story takes place in rural Hungary, where a sales team for the Palisade Defence weapons corporation are on a bus headed for a team-building weekend at the luxury lodge of their American owner. A fallen tree across the road brings the drive to a halt. When the Hungarian driver abandons the group, their starchy boss Richard (Tim McInnerny) decides to lead them to the lodge on foot. Oh sure, the map has no legend, but it can’t be far because one inch usually means one mile, right?
In addition to Richard, the office workers include his assistant Billy (Babou Cesay); Steve (Danny Dyer), whose decision to take some psychedelic mushrooms provides a number of dandy moments; can-do man Harris (Toby Stephens); nerdy Gordon (Andy Nyman); earthy Jill (Claudie Blakley); and sensible Maggie (Laura Harris).
The trek through the forest lands the squabbling crew not at a posh lodge but at a rundown building without a working phone. Richard urges the group to make the best of it and use the circumstances to further the team-building effort. Others are less enthusiastic, especially since someone remembers that the company may have once engaged in some shady dealings in the area.
It soon becomes clear that the group is not alone. They are being stalked and killed. There are deaths, and severe injuries that will lead to death if the office workers don’t find help soon. Within the nightmare, there is humor. A hastily grabbed weapon turns out to have a radically different function that expected. The sincere attempt to save the severed foot of one of the colleagues turns into a comedy of errors. I’d say more, but I don’t want to spoil any of the jokes.
Severance is able to mix comedy and horror without becoming an outright parody because the humor fits snugly within the story. Sure, the story is outlandish and full of holes. But what the hell, I cared about the characters and I laughed a lot. Some will complain that the film is nothing but a gussied-up slasher movie, but if you’re like me, you’ll be grinning while you roll your eyes.