capsule review: severance

Severance is a 2007 British horror-comedy in the vein of Shaun of the Dead. Black, often gruesome comedy coexists with slasher-style survival horror in a surprisingly effective way, all the while taking the opportunity to satirize clichéd genre tactics like getting girls naked and firing guns.

It’s a slasher film, all right, although much of the really gory violence is kept off-screen. When a female protagonist fights off a rapist, her revenge consists of knocking him out and dropping a very heavy stone on his head. Can we say watermelon? We sure can, but a wet, squishy, vaguely crunchy sound effect is all director Christopher Smith gives us. Other kills are a bit more graphic, but it’s refreshing to watch a film that doesn’t feel compelled to linger lovingly on the anatomical details…which isn’t to say that the deaths aren’t horrific. They are, proving that implication can be even more effective and insinuating when not blotted out by nausea.

The film’s pretense of pitting the employees of a weapons manufacturer out on a team-building exercise against war criminals somehow associated with the misuse of the manufacture’s weapons is, of course, one-note irony. Oh look! Minions of Evil, Inc. are harvesting the bitter fruit their own company sowed. Beyond the moral of the story, never go looking for lodges or hostels in the creepy corners of Eastern Europe, the aspiration to delivering a profound allegory is more an excuse to bring together a bunch of characters and kill them off rather than a serious essay on war corporatism. But Smith and Loman’s script, hand-in-hand with a cracking good cast, actually succeeds in creating characters with more dimension. Severance is by no means a character study, but there are some good character moments, some noble deaths, some good gags, that pump enough blood to the film’s heart. Is it Shaun of the Dead? No. It’s not Office Space either. But it is a sharp little dagger with an ending that doesn’t cop out, and that’s enough for a good time.

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