Saturday, 7 October 2006

Severance (2006)

Dilbert meets Survivor meets slasher horror!

There are few ways to make horror comedies. One way is to spoof conventions of the genre itself, and to use self-conscious dialogue. Characters in Scream openly discuss old horror movies and guess which amongst them will be killed off, while the Scary Movie franchise brought us incompetent, unscary, but somewhat funny ghosts. Christopher Smith has other ideas, such as ditching teenyboppers, brainless blonde celebrities, and high schools from the script of Severance. These horror movie denizens may have provided pure entertainment in the early 1970s, but have grown more tedious and annoying, and out of step with the different efforts to reinvent the horror genre this decade. In Severance, these characters are replaced by grown adults. It should be a great idea – while not being vapid and brainless, adults can be mean, self-delusional, selfish and backstabbing on a higher dimension than teenagers. Hence: imagine a slasher flick with adults as the prey!

The twist that makes this more than just a normal slasher flick with a different set of victims is this: the adults are the corporate types. The office politics between the co-workers are straight out of a Dilbert comic strip, and the defense contractor company they work for is even more dysfunctional than Scott Adams’s creation. They’re merchants of death, dysfunctional corporate types, and hence fully deserving of the slasher treatment.

And what fun it gets! On their way to a corporate resort/team building weekend/marketing trip to Eastern Europe to peddle their weapons of mass destruction to post 9/11 governments eager for reliable security, the merchants of death get hopelessly lost, end up in a rickety compound that they mistake for their resort, and begin to be picked off one after another by very standard slasher film types. The comedy lies in how off-centre the reaction is by these corporate types, the macabre humour from both Smith’s sneaky subversion and fulfilment of slasher film conventions, and the very horrible and gory things that happen to the group of corporate weekend warriors.

Severance is full of visual jokes, deadpan dialogue, thoroughly appropriate ends for its nasty characters, and a thoroughly inappropriate soundtrack to accompany the carnage. The director, scriptwriter, the cast and extras had tremendous fun making this movie – and it shows. There is no way you can or want to escape the infectious fun! Severance is one of the rare horror comedies that does not take its audience to be idiots, and the result is a smart and enjoyable flick that brings to mind a more innocent era where slasher films were not a waste of time to watch.

Just imagine the cast of Dilbert getting bumped off by psychotic killers on a corporate retreat: this is all you need to know in order to want to watch this movie.

First published at incinemas on 12 October 2006

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