In fact, the aspect of the British Office that Severance imitates most in its opening scenes is that show's occasional avoidance of actual satire in favor of invoking general malaise. We find members of the Palisades Defense sales team bussing their way to a team-building retreat; they're vaguely miserable, save for smarmy boss Richard (Tim McInnerny) and his suck-up assistant (Andy Nyman). But echoes of Brent and Gareth aside, this small group of sad-sacks looks like pretty much any other gang of Brit-com misfits: the slacker/stoner (Danny Dyer), the bumbling git (Nyman), the nerdy girl (Claudie Blakley), and the pompous guy (Toby Stephens). There's also a pretty American (Laura Harris) who all of the gents seem to fancy.
Spending build-up time with these people is not unpleasant, exactly; the prelude mayhem is far less tedious than in most slasher movies. And make no mistake: Severance is a slasher movie, with little Deliverance-style creepiness. The folks from Palisades wind up at the wrong retreat cabin in the wrong part of the woods, and a bunch of maniacs scarred by the military-industrial complex have at them accordingly.
That's where the satire comes in, I guess, but co-writer/director Christopher Smith doesn't dwell on it, to the point of forgetting why or if the slashing motivation matters (the various urban-legend versions of the bad guys' backstory, exchanged by the sales team, are more entertaining than whatever the movie decides is the truth).
His approach to squirm-inducing comedy is a bit more visceral, focusing on gory bits of slapstick rather than Office-style discomfort. He and his co-writer come up with a number of ghoulishly funny gag uses for bear traps, decapitations, and rocket launchers; you wonder if this (not the Office/Deliverance mix) was the impetus behind making the film in the first place. Like a lot of modern horror movies, Severance isn't particularly scary; unlike a lot of its competition, it is intentionally funny, though it never ascends/descends to the dark-comic levels of, say, Eli Roth.
Part of the problem is the victims, who seem chosen for sacrifice or survival more or less at random. They're neither satirical corporate drones nor jerks who deserve a comeuppance, which makes them merely more likable versions of slasher cardboard. The silent masked killers might be creepier if they didn't seem to be bought in bulk, possibly from the filmmakers behind Vacancy. The ensuing battle between the good victims of corporate ignorance and the evil victims of corporate negligence works for a few laughs, but cuts out way too early for anything more.
This wasn't in the employee handbook!
Run time: 96 mins
In Theaters: Friday 25th August 2006
Box Office USA: $66.7k
Distributed by: Magnolia Pictures
Production compaines: Dan Films, Qwerty Films, HanWay Films, Isle of Man Film, N1 European Film Produktions GmbH & Co. KG, UK Film Council
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 64%
Fresh: 57 Rotten: 32
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: Christopher Smith
Producer: Jason Newmark
Screenwriter: Christopher Smith, James Moran
Starring: Danny Dyer as Steve, Laura Harris as Maggie, Toby Stephens as Harris, Tim McInnerny as Richard, Babou Ceesay as Billy, Andy Nyman as Gordon, Claudie Blakley as Jill, David Gilliam as George, Juli Drajkó as Olga, Judit Viktor as Nadia, Sándor Boros as Coach Driver
Also starring: Christopher Smith