Severance

2006, Movie, R, 90 mins

Review

SEVERANCE
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The double entendre title of this British horror comedy about a group of marketing types on a team-building holiday, who find themselves terminated in the worst possible way, is only one of many clever ideas that inform this gruesome trap-'em-and-kill-'em hybrid.

A seven-member sales team from multinational munitions manufacturer Palisades Defense — a company determined to introduce state-of-the-art Western weaponry to an unstable Eastern Europe — is en route from Budapest to the company's new luxury retreat in the darkest forests of Hungary's borderlands when their motor coach comes to a screeching halt. A tree trunk blocks their path, and the spooked driver — a descendent, no doubt, of the same locals who once tried to warn Jonathan Harker away from Dracula's castle — refuses to take the suspiciously convenient detour, so everyone's off the bus: pretty blond American Maggie (Laura Harris), an idealist who believes in what she does for a living; conscience-stricken Jill (Claudie Blakley), who's committed to developing humane weapons; geeky Gordon (Andy Nyman), the office computer whiz; low-key Billy (Babou Ceesay), who harbors a secret crush on Maggie; and arrogant Cambridge-grad Harris (Toby Stephens), who has a level head and an undisguised contempt for team leader Richard (Tim McInnerny), a pompous, platitude-spouting ass who obviously rode to the top on the backs of far more competent underlings. Then there's office slacker Steve (Danny Dyer), who's just now consumed too many magic mushrooms to know exactly where he is, or whether that strange figure he sees watching them through the trees is really there. Richard insists they take the detour on foot and, after much bickering, they arrive at the "lodge" — an isolated, musty dump with a disturbing history. Some say it was once an insane asylum whose inmates were exterminated with a Palisades-manufactured nerve agent; others claim it was a detention camp for vicious war criminals executed in the early '90s with Palisades weapons. Whatever it was, something from the past has survived and holds a grudge, and as Richard orders everyone about their team-building exercises to see "what they're made of," that something sets about showing them: guts, gristle and blood.

Director Christopher Smith and cowriter James Moran mix just the right amount of horror and laughs to keep the film working on both fronts. It's both very funny and very scary, and never descends to the level of spoof. Dyer makes a good, if unlikely, hero and the clever NOSFERATU-style silent flashback to the region's dark history and a POV shot from a severed head are just a few of the details designed to delight horror fans, even those who don't usually appreciate laughs with their screams. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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