Directed by Christopher Smith
Written by James Moran
& Christopher Smith
Any intelligent person forced to take part in an office team-building exercise knows how easy it would be to slip from controlled corporate rage to homicide. The creators of Severance understand that feeling. In place of traditional slasher film targets (such as obnoxious teenagers) they have substituted the people we most want to see mutilated and murdered: co-workers.
When their bus breaks down somewhere in an Eastern European forest, several sales employees of the multi-national Palisade Defence have to schlep their belongings to the nearest hotel. There they await instructions from the American executive who planned their trip. The hotel turns out to be a moldy inn equipped with no amenities except weird pie. And every step outside the place lands the unhappy employees in (often excruciating) peril.
Thanks to a terrific cast that includes Laura Harris, Danny Dyer, and Tim McInnerny (Lord Percy Percy and Capt. Darling of Blackadder fame) there is no need for over-the-top special effects. Don't get me wrong; what is here is truly horrific. But the point of view makes it so. For example, there's a scene in which a character sees something that gets his feet moving a lot faster--only we don't see what he sees. We see the sheer, animal terror in his eyes, and this is just as effective as anything the props department could have dreamed up.
While some horror filmmakers court plausibility with computer graphics, Christopher Smith makes the bolder and more disturbing choice to go natural. All the stunts and threats come from realistic or believable objects, relations, and circumstances. The style works; it hurts to watch.
A couple of the best jokes in this film are a long time coming. Yet they're set up so expertly, you recognize every punch line the second it arrives.
You'll spend about half the film trying to figure out if the force preying on our busload of working stiffs is supernatural, psychological, or real. When you finally know, the answer is satisfying in so many ways. All the pieces fit together as snugly as a perfect jigsaw puzzle.
Break out the good wine. Screen this one with smart friends you want to impress and terrify.
(orig published S. P. Miskowski 10/29/07 3:20 p.m.)