The production notes for the horror film, Severance, are a mutual asskissfest, outrageous even by Industry standards. The principals, director/co-writer Christopher Smith and collaborator James Moran, high-concept (and high-five) the film as "'The Office' meets Deliverance". Catchy, but no cigarillo. I've never watched 'The Office', but mentioning Deliverance in the same sentence as this clumsy mix of dry British humor and bloody gore insults the fine 1972 film that made Appalachia a must-visit place for urban business types. Not!
Filmed in Hungary and the Isle of Man, best known as birthplace of the Bee Gees, Severance is the story of seven employees from a British arms-manufacturing company, Palisade Defence, run by one George Cinders (note the subtle Anglo humor). They've been sent on one of those team-building retreats that involve paintball and other boot-campish modes of bonding. The seven are all Types. We have Richard (Tim McInnerny), the corporatespeak-spouting boss, a twit of monstrous proportions. Maggie (Laura Harris), the office hottie, Jill (Laura Harris), the brainy not-so-hottie, Stoner Steve (Danny Dyer), who's already high on magic 'shrooms when the film begins, hunky brownnoser Gordon (Andy Nyman), pompous, sarcastic Harris (Toby Stephens), and token Black Guy Billy. (Babou Ceesay).
The Magnificent Seven are on a bus heading into the woods of Central Europe when they come to a fork in the road. One way is blocked, the other clear. The Hungarian driver stops, and with a lengthy tirade in his native language that boils down to "No way Jose", refuses to continue and drives off, leaving "The Office" and their luggage stranded. Ol' Cinders had promised them luxury accommodations for their group experience, but instead they end up in a run-down building with old files in the basement making reference to Soviet criminals, and a pie on the counter containing a gross secret ingredient.
The remainder of the film consists of the killing off of most of the Palisaders, some in original ways. There are a few witty quips and sight gags, but we never find out who the killers represent, or their motivation for doing away with this hapless crew. The hit-men all look like a cross between Ninjas and SWAT cops. Severance brings to mind Eli Roth's Hostel, with its Central European setting, dismemberment quotient, and macabre humor. Roth's film, however, succeeds where Severance fails, because Smith's film provides no one to root for, or against.
Towards the end of Severance I found myself dozing off, largely because "'The Office' meets Deliverance" turns out to be like matter meeting antimatter. There's a flash, and nothing's left but a complete vacuum. Rather than complementing each other, the humor and the horror cancel each other out, making the film a frustrating and unfulfilling experience. Much ado about nothing, me lads and ladies!
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