Severancerecommended viewing

There’s no AAAUUUURRRRGGGHHH!!!! in ‘team.’
★★★★
☆
Released: 
2006
Director: 
Christopher Smith
Starring: 
Claudie Blakley, Danny Dyer, Toby Stephens, Andy Nyman, Laura Harris
The Setup: 
Corporate group go on a team-building exercise in Hungary, find themselves stalked.
Discussion: 

A reader wrote to tell me about this one, it sounded good, so to the top of my list it went. It turned out to be a great recommendation, as it is genuinely funny, scary, and consistently clever. And I feel fairly certain it’ll be on next year’s ‘best of’ list.

One must be wary when one hears the phrase “horror-comedy,” which is why I had a moment of relief here at the beginning, saying “Oh thank God, it’s British.” We open with a little killing to get us going, then quickly join our sales team. They all work for a weapons manufacturing firm and are being sent on a team-building weekend in remote Hungary. They watch a corporate video that ends with the president of the company saying “We’ll win the war on terror.” Among them is this bloke Steve, who takes mushrooms. The bus comes to a log thrown across the road, and the driver refuses to go the alternate route. The boss, Richard, doesn’t get that the driver doesn’t speak his language and can’t get over the fact that the man doesn’t respect his authority. They all get off the bus, and the bus takes off! So they’re stuck in the woods. Richard insists that an inch on maps always equals a mile, and says they can just walk. Richard is straight out of the British “The Office,” so it’s no surprise to learn that the writer pitched this script as “The Office meets Deliverance.”

So they wander into the woods. Steve is now officially tripping, doing things like standing, feeling his crotch and asking Maggie, the pretty blonde, “Have I pissed myself?” He is later found with his pants down, accuses the black guy, Billy, of looking at his cock, then turns around and unknowingly urinates into a male corpses’ mouth. Yes, there IS a current of homoeroticism to this film. Maggie soon has Steve on a leash.

They find the lodge, which is a total dump, and deserted to boot. The team is saying it’s not the place they’re looking for, but Richard tries to be the motivating boss who tells them no one said it would be simple and they all have to pull together, etc. In here the movie is messing with transitions, for example starting the sound of sharpening knives at the end of one scene, and having the character turn around as though reacting in fright, but the knives are actually the sound from the next scene. It’s a bit cheap, like a jump scare, but luckily it doesn’t go on too long. Soon they find a human tooth in a meat pie that had been left out for them.

They find a bunch of documents that indicate that the place used to be a lunatic asylum, where the lunatics took over and killed the doctors, and some say that many of them survived and are still out there in the woods. We have three tellings of the events, one a Nosferatu-like B&W mini-movie, one a modern, high-tech retelling of the same story, and then Steve saying that the place used to be a sex lodge. If it looks like Steve has a huge dildo down his leg in that scene, it’s because, we find out from a bonus feature, he does.

Then something happens that, looking back, I don't really understand, even having seen the whole movie. Richard ends up picking up a knife somewhere, and goes in a room where Maggie is lying on a bed, facing away. She says she wants him, she's always wanted him, but when he turns her over he sees it's a guy in a wig, making fun of him. Richard goes bonkers and stabs the guy repeatedly. I thought "Oh wow, that was really homo," but a few minutes later it seems that it must not have really happened [although that wasn't apparent to me] and it is never mentioned again.

Well, here's where I have to leave the plot synopsis, since there are so many good, frequently nasty, sometimes humorous surprises that you must discover them on your own. This movie remains clever throughout, and small asides the characters mention are often paid off later. Furthermore, the deaths of most of the characters or not handled flippantly, but they often have full-bodied deaths that last a while, let the actor go out with a flourish that gives them some dignity, and are sometimes approaching moving. The movie does a great job of mixing horror with humor, playing the shock of each off each other expertly, including one gag that I would LOVE to spoil for you, but suffice to say that even air traffic over this haunted area isn't safe. One other aspect that really made me go from like to love on this movie—and could be considered a spoiler, so skip to the next paragraph if you want to know nothing—is the way the survivors hold each other and cry and then laugh maniacally upon realizing that it's OVER, they have SURVIVED. It just seems more real and, like the rest of the movie, takes their experience seriously and gives it the gravitas it deserves.

On the disc are some extensive extra features. One is called "The Genesis of Severance," and focuses on the screenwriter, James Moran. He says the idea came after returning to his flat one day after a London commute and just wanting to KILL all these yuppies that infuriated him on the way. So he decided he would write this screenplay and kill them all there. I'm not sure he was entirely able to stick to his original intent, as most of the characters who are not Richard are not really that repulsive, and several of them have become downright admirable by the end. Even Richard becomes a bit noble before it's over. Now, I've mentioned that there is more than a whiff of homoeroticism to certain parts of this movie, so you can imagine how my ears went up when I hear that the director rewrote the script to "add more girls," because "We don't want to see a bunch of guys running around screaming in terror," which is followed by the screenwriter saying "We had some pretty intense discussions about what [the script] was ABOUT." What it's about is, apparently, responsibility, personal and corporate, and, yeah… none of that came through to me at all.

Also on the disc is a short called "Being Danny Dyer" [Steve] which seems to be devoted entirely to what a hot, sexy guy Dyer is. Hey, no problem from me. It captures him in his underwear, flashing his cock for the camera [obscured], spitting then blowing kisses at the camera, and lovingly showcasing the dildo down his leg with a special close-up. If you watch the movie and are into him, it is not to be missed.

Anyway, really a first-class horror-comedy that is both horrific and hilarious, with smart characters and witty dialogue, lots of surprises up its sleeve and clever twists… one of the best horror movies I've seen in quite some time.

Should you watch it: 

Yes! This is pure genius.