Movie Review – SEVERANCE

     May 31, 2007

Reviewed by Brian Orndorf

Horror and comedy are a combination used often by genre filmmakers the chocolate and peanut butter of the big screen. I suppose a depiction of true evil must be chased by some type of levity, but when the comedy is obvious and fails to produce even the faintest of chuckles, and the horror is absurdly raw and miscalculated, the result is a flamboyantly misguided picture like “Severance.”

On their way to Hungary for a team-building weekend in a remote cabin, employees (including Toby Stephens and Laura Harris) of the weapons manufacturing corporation Palisades Defense are forced to take a shortcut though uncharted woods. Once settled in their cabin, the team starts to feel like they’re in the wrong place. Their fears are soon confirmed when a group of ruthless renegade soldiers starts picking off the team one by one with the very weapons the company helped usher into the region.

“Severance” could simply be described as “The Office” meets “Hostel.” It’s a satiric take on American/British politics and soulless corporate gratification, while attempting to soak the material in a pool of blood. I tried mightily to find a single point of interest while watching the picture, but director and co-writer Christopher Smith can’t find a tone to settle on here, and his imagination for the macabre is limited to the torture-porn aesthetics that have long overstayed their cinematic welcome.

Many elements of “Severance” are sloppy, starting with a comedic script that doesn’t permit any laughs. Smith is bouncing back and forth between stabs at “wit” and gallows humor that needs a more deft touch than anything the filmmaker has. The screenplay toys around with corporate culture, using the inherent social and emotional limitations of the suit-and-tie bound to bring out the frustrations of the characters and the slowly dawning idea that they might not make it out of this getaway alive. Outside of some transparent ideas (a hard-ass boss in the workplace is a sniveling coward in reality), the film doesn’t extract much mileage out of the premise beyond the simplistic and the clichéd.

In the second half, “Severance” rockets from a light romp with a little bloodshed here and there to a darker take on irony and Eastern European terror, complete with guns, knives, bear traps, land mines, and malfunctioning rocket launchers. The picture dissolves into a mean-spirited mess the abrupt switch in tone would not have been nearly as jarring if Smith had been more attentive to his ambiance from the start. Unfortunately, “Severance” becomes a bumbling hackneyed bore, trying to abuse iconic horror clichés in the name of homage. It comes off more as a depressing lack of vision on Smith’s part.

Perhaps if “Severance” was a bit more ballsy with its global perspective intentions there would be more personality here for Smith to spread around. As it is, this economic/political/corporate satire feels deflated from the first frame, and no amount of beheadings and stabbing is going to snap this tedious film back to attention.

— D plus

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