The films of Christopher Smith: “Severance”

“Severance” is a really good film. If you’ve seen a DVD case for it, or read a capsule review on some site, then you might, just might, not be all that impressed with how it sounds – Brit horror comedy, starring Mark Kermode-bait Danny Dyer, no big names in it. Or you might have seen it and not liked it, in which case I’ll probably fight you at some point in your life – keep an eye out, you never know when I’ll be there. In fact, I could spend this entire review spewing hypotheticals about who you are. And although it definitely wouldn’t be boring, I’ll start talking about the film and stuff.

It’s a simple plot – a group of employees for an arms manufacturer get sent on a corporate retreat to some Eastern European country, and encounter both their own stupidity and a group of…who? Army deserters? Mental patients who’ve organised themselves into some sort of militia? A criminal gang? But that’s not the fun thing about it – it’s the skill of Christopher Smith in turning this base metal into gold; it’s the melding of a horror sensibility with a group of comedy actors and comedians; and it’s a clever script which knows just when to take itself seriously and when to go for laughs, a rarity in horror comedies.

It starts off with a couple of very unhappy young women, and a much unhappier young man because he’s about to be disembowelled, being pursued by persons unknown through a forest, and falling into a pit. The women try and fashion implements from their own clothes in order to get out, so we’re left with a couple of scared, mostly naked, Eastern European prostitutes in a big pit (I’m not being mean about them, they really are prostitutes). They throw a clothes-and-log grappling hook out of the pit and it sticks to something! Cut to –

Palisade Defence, an up-and-coming arms manufacturer, has sent its European sales division on a corporate jolly to Hungary. I had to look this up, as even though I watched it yesterday I was drawing a blank on where they went, and I know that absolute accuracy is the thing you readers really want. They’re on a three-quarters-empty bus, which indicates either a subtle reference to how badly their business is doing, or that was the only bus the producers of the film could afford. A fallen tree and an argument, not helped by Steve (Danny Dyer) nipping off into the loo for a crafty “herbal cigarette”, causes the driver to just walk off, leaving our gang to set off on foot for the luxury lodge which has been booked for them.

Problem Is, the lodge, when they find it, really isn’t that luxurious. It’s a bit grotty, and the grounds around it are overgrown, and there’s really nothing inside it for the purposes of entertaining a bunch of young executives. But, the British spirit is to make do with what you have, so they try and get settled in to their new surroundings.

This is the setup for what turns out to be one of the best British horror films of recent years. There’s tales told round the campfire of what sort of people used to live in the “lodge”, and maybe none of them are right, but maybe all of them are, and that’s one of the many clever touches in this film. And also, it’s really hard to write reviews when your cat decides she is the most interesting thing in the room.

So, there’s those stories, there’s one brief, beautiful moment of fourth-wall breaking, and there’s the bit when the cast find themselves getting bumped off, and have to both flee and fight back. So much of my enjoyment of the film was the way the format was messed with, along with what would have been a perfectly decent little horror-comedy in its own right.

So, 4.5 out of 5. Christopher Smith’s first properly great film, and there’s more to come. I recommend getting yourself the DVD and enjoying one of the most fun commentaries you’re likely to hear, as well.

Severance on IMDB
Buy Severance [DVD] [2006]