Severance: Special Edition (DVD)

Another bloody office outing.

Your life and your job are connected. Sad, but true. And when a coworker of yours leaves or gets fired, it’s like that person died. You’ve heard the cliché, “Getting the axe” in relation to getting fired. Severance takes that a step further as it combines surviving the job with just plain surviving, as a group of office workers head into the woods for some team-building and find themselves up against a vicious killer.

The sales division for a high-profile weapons manufacturer heads out into the woods of Eastern Europe for a weekend at a lodge, where they plan to get to know one another better and participate in some teamwork exercises, including paintball. There’s the clueless boss (Tim McInnerny, Notting Hill), the quiet and subservient second in command (Babou Ceesay), the boss’s overly enthusiastic toady (Andy Nyman, Death at a Funeral), the pretty blonde (Laura Harris, Dead Like Me), the office jerk (Toby Stephens, Die Another Day), the shy but smart lady (Claudie Blakely, Gosford Park), and, uh, the guy who gets high off mushrooms (Danny Dyer, Mean Machine). Things don’t go as planned. The bus driver refuses to drive them into the woods. The “lodge” is a run-down old house with very little food. There are bear traps out in the woods, ready to snap at any moment. One by one, the coworkers feel like they’re being watched. Someone’s out to get them, and it’s going to take all their wits and courage to survive the night.

Although it’s gained a lot of positive word of mouth over the last year as a “horror/comedy,” I’d say Severance puts the emphasis on scary. Sure, there are plenty of laughs and silly moments throughout, but at its core, this movie is all about a group of folks stranded in the woods, with a cunning and ruthless killer taking them out one by one.

Humor and horror have always been strange bedfellows. There’s a strange sort of chemistry at work in fright flicks, where a little bit of humor allows the audience to take a moment and breathe. Somehow, this amps up the adrenaline for the next big spooky set piece. Severance keeps getting compared to Shaun of the Dead, but it isn’t quite a fair comparison. Shaun managed to spoof the zombie genre while telling a story within that genre. Severance sticks to the story at hand, rather than going for a full-blown slasher movie parody.

Also, the humor in Severance has more of an abstract quality. One early slapstick bit has a character testing out a diving board over a leaf-filled swimming pool. As he finds that the springs still have some bounce in them, he playfully jumps higher and higher, as the audience knows where this is going. Later in the film, as the gloom and gore increase, there’s a memorable gag involving a severed foot and a refrigerator that’s…well, you’ll just have to see this one for yourself.

That brings us to the horror half of the tale, which is played mostly straight throughout. As the characters are stalked by an unseen enemy as they explore the lodge, there are a lot of fake-outs, in which we think something horrific has just happened, but hasn’t. Once the mayhem kicks into gear, the movie keeps up a frantic pace, never slowing down until the credits roll. Our heroes find themselves pursued through the woods, in and out of the lodge, and even through a few underground passages before it’s all over. The kills are all memorable enough, different enough, and blood-drenched enough to satisfy most horror fans out there.

The picture quality on this DVD is good, as expected for a recently-made movie, with deep, rich greens and browns during the forest scenes and bright, vibrant reds in all the bloody, gooey scenes. The audio is equally good, with a lot of atmospheric effects at work in the outdoor scenes. The commentary with the director, crew, and actors, is a real raucous one, with everyone laughing and joking and trying to one-up each other. Not a lot of technical information in this one, but it’s exhaustingly funny. This is followed by a variety of featurettes, with interview snippets, special effects info, and a chance to get to know actor Danny Dyer a little better. Add to this some trailers, deleted scenes, outtakes, and alternate ending storyboards, and you’ve got an outstanding collection of extras to accompany the movie.

Severance is a fun horror movie and all, but I feel the creators could have done more with the premise. “Office workers on a retreat stalked by a killer” is a concept that should be rife with metaphor. As the movie’s title suggests, the killings could have been equated with the workers fretting over getting fired. But this doesn’t happen. The “team-building exercises” could have come into play somehow when the employees faced off with the killer. But that didn’t happen. The office hierarchy could have collapsed during a crisis, allowing the office’s true leaders to step forward. This only sort of happens.

Having the heroes be coworkers could have made these characters very different from the stock “college friends looking to party all weekend” that usually populate this type of movie. Instead, they’re only a little bit different from what we’re used to. I can’t help but see some missed opportunities here, and think “What if…”

Severance is a wild ride, and should be enjoyed by any fans who like their fear flicks fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek, and bloodier than an Itchy and Scratchy cartoon. It could have been better, but it’s still pretty great.

The Verdict

The verdict will be rendered as soon as you complete these employee evaluation forms in triplicate and fax them to HR and the home office.

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