You read the synopsis of Severance and it sounds like it might not be too bad.
"A team building weekend in the mountains of Eastern Europe goes horribly wrong for the sales division of the multi national weapons company Palisade Defence when they become the victims of a group of crazed killers who will stop at nothing to see them dead."Sounds like Southern Comfort meets Office Space. So it's got that going for it.
But Severance also had many strikes against it - strikes that the synopsis couldn't hope to erase with its promises of "crazed killers" who will "stop at nothing" to see the group "dead".
Strike One: It's billed as a horror-comedy. Not a big fan of that genre, me; it's done so often, and so rarely done well. For every Return of the Living Dead, there's a Dead and Breakfast; for every Dellamorte Dellamore there's a Dead-Alive; for every Evil Dead there's a... well, an Evil Dead 2. And let's not even talk about Cheerleader Camp, yeah?
Strike Two: It seemed to promise horror of the Saw/Hostel variety; short on story, more torture than gore, that sort of thing. It's not really horror at all, at that point, but random acts of mindless violence. Not that I'm against random acts of mindless violence, but a little story to string them together wouldn't go far wrong.
Strike Three: It was shot in Hungary. Nothing screams poor quality, my friends, like an Eastern European location. (Dark Corners, I'm looking at you.)
You'd be wondering by this stage why we bothered with it at all. In answer to this query, I give you this still shot from the back of the DVD packet.
I mean, come on.
Of course they pulled the old Bait-and-Switch on me. This picture leads one to believe that the topless-yet-suede-jacket-clad girl is the movie's heroine, the Final Girl who bests the madman and lives to jiggle another day. Alas, she and her friend there are only in the movie for about five minutes.
Yet somehow the movie did not disappoint. Probably the biggest surprise was that the comedy and horror were well-balanced. And the horror itself not as over-the-top as it could have been, apart from a scene involving one of the group getting his leg caught in a bear trap. But even this was presented in a comedic manner, so that you're looking away from the ghastliness of it, even as you're laughing at the absurdity.
We learned afterwards that the director of Severance, Christopher Smith, was the guy who made the phenomenally awful Creep. Had we known this going in, we may not have bothered with it at all, and what a shame that would have been.
Was Severance a great movie? Hell, no. It was never going to be. But we came away enjoying it far more than we'd expected.
I didn't want to watch Severance for several reasons: the silly front cover, the boob-infested back cover, the fact I recognised not a single name involved. Here we go again, I thought, more horror crap like The Breed. It's hard to find good horror these days, so Steve and I have taken it upon ourselves to grab horror movies off the new release shelf to watch knowing as we go in to expect the worst. Why do we purposefully watch bad horror movies? Because we love horror movies, and lately, if you don't watch bad horror, you don't watch horror at all.
Five minutes into Severance, and I'd changed my tune. I knew the horror was going to be ultra-gory when the dude ended up hanging from the tree, stabbed in the gut, and the comedy was actually funny. The laughs actually made me laugh, much of that having to do with the weird, but super-brilliant casting of Tim McInnerny from Blackadder as the leader of the group sent into the Hungarian wilderness for a team-building weekend. McInnerny is the absolute master of stuttery, embarrassed delivery, and the writers here give him so much to show that off. There's a bit where he's reassuring a pretty colleague that it's no big deal if she doesn't want dinner by telling her she's "perfect just the way she is" only to realise his goof and back-peddle by telling he he doesn't mean that in a sexual way, but as a woman-to-woman kind of thing and on and on, until another colleague shouts, "Keep digging mate, we can still see you." The comedy here, for once and hallelujah, was not forced, was not stupid, and our group of to-be-killed were genuinely entertaining and interesting.
How is it then, that the writer/director here also did Creep? One of the lamest horror movies ever and to which we often refer back in a "that was Creep bad" way? I'm figuring now that everyone is allowed a misstep, because that movie was heinous. Severance is so cool because it knows when and when not to take itself too seriously, and it revels in it's horror knowledge. Its purpose is to shock with some gross-out moments and to entertain -- and who could ask for more than that? We loved the bit where the heroine pops the apparently solo bad guy in the head and says, "I don't want to be accused of not killing him when I had the chance." And there's the bit with the spider and the bit on the diving board -- two tense moments that build to utterly unexpected pay-offs. And the reason they're unexpected is because we've seem similar scenes in other movies, but never have we seen them played out as they are here. It's as if Smith really desired to do something different with his horror movie, to surprise in genuine ways. We're not shocked by the varied kill-styles necessarily (if you've seen Wrong Turn 2, you know there's no new kills left -- that movie took them all), but by the movie's tender moments, its funny moments, the bonding that goes on between the characters. These people aren't in front of us for the sake of slaughter. They each fit into the group specifically and effectively, so that when they do lose body parts, we're as perturbed as their colleagues. Bottom line for me -- any horror movie that makes me like its little Indians gets an extra star for effort.
Severance, unlike recent horror movies from Wind Chill to Vacancy, held my attention right the way through. It was a good set-up that actually built to something beyond the basic, beyond the expected. Now, I reckon we'll be referring to Christopher Smith every time we see a decent horror movie, rather than a lame one: "That was Severance good," I'll say to Steve, and we'll both crack up a bit remembering Tim McInnerny's speech about the bears.