Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes
MPAA Rating: R for Strong Bloody Violence, Language, Drug Content and some Sexuality/Nudity
Directed by: Christopher Smith
Written by: James Moran & Christopher Smith
Starring: Danny Dyer, Laura Harris, Tim McInnerny, Toby Stephens, Claudie Blakley, Andy Nyman & Babou Ceesay
Combining goofy comedy and straight horror is a tough feat, even for the most seasoned filmmakers. While Drew Goddard excelled with 2012’s THE CABIN IN THE WOODS and Wes Craven captured lightning in a bottle with SCREAM, loads of other visual storytellers have tried and failed to craft films that are equally scary and funny. Enter Christopher Smith, who directed the not-so-good subway creature feature CREEP and the excellent medieval horror tale BLACK DEATH. In SEVERANCE (his second feature), Smith combines wacky hijinks that would feel at home in one of the better episodes of THE OFFICE with a brutal slasher flick. So far, SEVERANCE is one of the most entertaining movies that I’ve sat through for 31 Days of Horror 2017.
The sales division of Palisade Defense are stuck on a boring team-building weekend in the remote mountains of Hungary. When a toppled tree forces their bus to stop, dickhead manager Richard (Tim McInnerny) forces his employees to hike to their “luxury lounge” (code for a “rundown shack”). Soon enough, the stressed-out employees suspect that something sinister is afoot. Their suspicions are confirmed when a few bodies turn up and booby traps are uncovered. A group of heavily armed psychos are hellbent on killing the Palisade employees one-by-one. If the unlucky Palisade office drones wish to survive, they’ll have to go through the ultimate team-building activity: a life-or-death game of cat-and-mouse.
SEVERANCE kicks things off in full comedic mode as happy music plays over a guy getting disemboweled and the over-the-top office stereotypes make their presence known. When I refer to these characters as over-the-top office stereotypes, I mean that in the best way possible because you likely have coworkers that remind you of these characters in some way. The way that the Palisade employees feed off of each other is hilarious to behold as the first third packs some of the biggest laughs in the entire film. That’s not to say that the rest of SEVERANCE isn’t amusing, because there’s almost always a sick sense of humor present. However, things get darker as the plot progresses forward.
Some reviews have described SEVERANCE as “THE OFFICE meets FRIDAY THE 13TH” and while that might be an accurate description to a certain degree, I’d argue that this slasher-comedy is far more entertaining and clever than any of the FRIDAY THE 13TH series. Possible details about the killers’ origin stories are given in stylized flashbacks as characters relate stories to each other, but we’re never given a concrete exposition dump of who these psychos are. Instead, Christopher Smith trusts the viewer to connect the dots for themselves as he feeds us some clues, including two big reveals in the final third. It’s worth noting that SEVERANCE’s killers would seem more at home in an action-packed thriller as opposed to a gory horror comedy, but their unique presence greatly benefits this film.
As far as kills go, SEVERANCE doesn’t skirt on the bloodshed. While it doesn’t revel in some of its unpleasant demises (ala a gasoline-related death is thankfully cut away from), the kills range from darkly humorous to aggravatingly brutal. This mixture injects grittiness into the proceedings as the suspense takes over for most of the second half and big laughs become more spread out. The former and the latter qualities are always present though, just in varying measures. I’d argue that SEVERANCE’s biggest gut-busting joke comes in a hilariously dark twist that arrives during the final 15 minutes. This bit had me laughing so hard that I actually rewound the film to watch the scene again.
While the victims and survivors range from various over-the-top office stereotypes, the performers make these characters into their own unique roles. Danny Dyer (who also starred in the decent zom-com DOGHOUSE) steals the show as drug-addicted slacker Steve. Laura Harris plays the most level-headed of the bunch as Maggie. Claudie Blakley is convincing as stuck-up nerd Jill, while Toby Stevens is hysterical as asshole coworker Harris. Though Tim McInnerny is a bit underused as the dickhead boss, he does receive a handful of moments to shine in. Also, Andy Nyman is a lot of fun as overly happy suck-up Gordon and gets a particularly nasty moment that will have viewers torn between giggling and gagging.
SEVERANCE’s tonal shifts from hilarious dark comedy to straight-faced slasher can be slightly jarring in certain areas. This mainly comes in one death scene that feels excessive to the point of almost being torture-porn in a film that mostly functions on being a twisted, suspenseful horror-comedy. Slightly distracting tonal changes aside, I had a ton of fun watching SEVERANCE. The characters are enjoyable, these villains haven’t really been seen in a horror film before (they seem like bad guys from an action flick), the kills range from funny to shocking, and the final third perfectly balances laughs and scares. Overall, I highly recommend SEVERANCE for horror fans who want something out of the ordinary.