R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Christopher Smith
scr James Moran, Christopher Smith
with Danny Dyer, Laura Harris, Tim McInnerny, Toby Stephens, Claudie Blakley, Andy Nyman, Babou Ceesay, David Gilliam, Juli Drajkó, Judit Viktor, Sándor Boros, Levente Törköly
release UK 25.Aug.06;
US 18.May.07
06/UK Qwerty 1h35

Eew, that's disgusting: Dyer and Harris

dyer mcinnerny stephens

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Severance There's so much comedy in this grisly horror movie that there are times when it feels like a vicious version of The Office. But for the most part, filmmaker Smith (Creep) gets the balance just right.

Seven staff members at an arms dealership win a team-building retreat in the Hungarian countryside (or are they in Romania?). But the lodge looks worryingly deserted. The boss (McInerny) tries to keep everyone motivated, assisted by his way-too-keen sidekick (Nyman), but laddish stoner Steve (Dyer), cynical Maggie (Harris), sarcastic Harris (Stephens), brainy Jill (Blakley) and sceptical Billy (Ceesay) all know something is desperately wrong. Sure enough, a bunch of renegade hard-men are lurking in the woods. And they bear a grudge.

Horror fans will find plenty to enjoy. There's nothing supernatural or far-fetched going on; no one rises from the dead for a shock attack. Smith keeps things grounded in reality, which helps us suspend our disbelief. And the sharply true-to-life humour adds to this tone--everything from silly jokes and gross-out slapstick to morbid gruesomeness and iconic satire. For example, the tense prologue places two Eastern European bimbos (Drajkó and Viktor) in an earthen pit, forcing them to strip off item by item to create a rope in a bid for freedom (the pay-off arrives much later).

The cast create vivid characters that rise above their office-worker stereotypes. We warm to them, even the annoying ones, mainly because we know they're all utterly doomed. And the script has a few surprises in store regarding their fates. Moran and Smith deliberately avoid cliches, but they also undermine the suspense, because we don't hold out much hope for survival. And we don't really care. After the long, comical set-up, we actually long for the killing to start, one by one, in increasingly inventive ways.

This structure works well with the comedy, but eliminates real terror. Smith jams the film with inventive touches and terrific little asides, but most of the scary stuff is mere trickery--loud noises and jumpy editing. What's left is an entertaining mix of raucous humour and outrageous gore. Plus an intriguingly strong (and unsubtle) political message.

cert 15 strong violence, gore, themes, language 1.Jun.06

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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall