Fresh from helming the stylistic but misguided and clichéd chiller Creep British director Christopher Smith unleashes Severance, a very different type of horror that’s both slick and gory while combining a satirical comedic twist.
Severance’s concept is as simple as it is brilliant; leading weapons manufacturer Palisade Defense decides to send some of its pivotal European Sales Division employees on an extended working vacation in Hungary to promote team building and problem solving unaware that an organized team of psychopaths lie in waiting in the surrounding wilderness all hungry for revenge against the massive conglomerate and, more worryingly, its employees.
Smith pulls no punches in distancing himself from his previous cinematic work. Whereas Creep attempted to recreate horrors halcyon days of nostalgia and claustrophobia Severance goes straight for the jugular and combines an odd, but outstanding, mix of jump scares, all-out gore and self-referential laughs that haven’t been seen, or outdone, since the fantastic Shaun of the Dead. From the opening scene featuring an armed and dangerous madman stalking a helpless local to tributes to Deer Hunter, Nosferatu and other famous names from cinema’s legendary canon, the film turns horror conventions on their head and offers the expected level of gore offset with a malevolent and ironic smile.
Key to the progression is actor Danny Dyer whose one-note cockney accent could easily become tiresome given the circumstances but he’s provided plenty of opportunity to stretch his comedic and acting muscles, creating a memorable slacker whose lines will have you laughing as much as screaming as the terror unfolds. Severance is full of shock moments and hardcore gore but it’s contrasted by a brilliantly sick sense of humor that runs throughout the film, imagine an episode of The Office crossed with Deliverance and a little dash of Saw and you’ll start to come close to how Severance feels.
The supporting cast excel here too, a perfect blend of differing characters create an immediately recognizable set-up that forms some of the key scares and laughs. From the promotion-hungry brownnoser to the hard-ass boss they’re all here and while the characters are about as subtle as a kick in the nuts the way in which they’re delivered negates any criticism of clichés.
As obnoxious as the employees are they’re all grounded in reality and are all instantly recognizable, something that only causes more tension and terror as their unseen hunter picks them off one by one in an almost Predator-like fashion.
Severance cleverly combines old-fashioned laughs with hardcore horror, the latter being the most welcome element as while Shaun of the Dead managed to tell a comedic tale of drama laced with Romero tributes Severance does something different, something unexpected. Sure there’s a story here and there’s some drama and some laughs but, at the heart of it all, it’s an unashamed shocker that prefers to show you dismembered limbs rather than teary moments of reflection.
Ricocheting from laugh-out-loud humor to heart-pounding scares Severance belongs between genres, neither a fully-fledged comedy nor horror it sits somewhere between the two. It doesn’t work all of the time of course, there are some mistimed gags and some unnecessary moments played purely for the gross-out factor but these criticisms are minor flaws against what it is arguably one the best British horror films of recent memory.