Sunday, 7 January 2007

Severance (2006)


Just over a week ago, in my mini-review of Driving Lessons, I was bemoaning the state of the British Film Industry. What I was forgetting of course, is that although we make an awful lot of lazy, predictable and old-fashioned rom-coms, there is one genre we seem to excel at. And that genre is horror, especially when it's mixed with comedy.

28 Days Later and Shaun of the Dead are both highly original, well made films that found success both here and abroad (although I did think the latter was somewhat over-hyped, in much the same way as The Full Monty had been, some years earlier)

And now there's Severance, which will, hopefully, become an American hit when released there in April this year, if only through word-of-mouth recommendation. It's an absolute gem of a movie, albeit a very sick one full of black humour and political incorrectness!

A team of various misfits from Palisade Defence, a company that sells military arms, are on a team building weekend in Hungary. Unfortunately, a wrong turn at a roadblock means that they find their corporate jolly becomes a fight for survival against a forgotten army of blood-thirsty maniacs armed with machetes, flame throwers, machine guns and knives.

Severance screencap

Comedy and horror have often gone hand-in-hand, but it can be very hard to get the balance right. Coming across as The Office meets one of the SAW movies, Severance gets it exactly right, and it's hard to recall a movie that had me so on-the-edge-of-my-seat one minute, and laughing out loud the next. If you've ever watched a horror movie and enjoyed it, you'll love Severence, not least for the way it takes the clichés of the genre, and turns them on their head.

The British cast are excellent, and there will be some familiar faces for British TV viewers, and fans of Black Adder. But the real surprise, and the stand-out performance, is from Danny Dyer. Here's an actor I'd previously lumped in with what I call the Eastenders 'No acting required - I'm a diamond geezer, me' crowd: the sort of 'actors' who get cast in a soap for their 'natural' performances, only to disappear without trace (and rightly so) when the soap gets cancelled. Dyer has, in previous films, come across as little more than a male version of Jade Goody - enough said! - but here, he gives a performance that is pure comedy gold, and shows he has some real acting chops to go with all those four letter words he seems to need to punctuate everything with. Admittedly he gets the most screen time, and has most of the best lines, but in a movie that was planned to be split equally between several main characters, it's no mean feat to have stolen the film from under everybody else's feet, particularly with a cast this strong.

Severance is a great fun movie, with wit and originality that puts most of its contemporary 'comedy' films, British or American, to shame. If you're not squeamish and can enjoy a good comedy/horror then this is a film that should be at the top of your viewing list.

Severance screencap

Unfortunately the DVD release of the film proves to be a disappointment in the picture quality department. This appears to be down to the original film, rather than the transfer. There is no dust, no annoying speckles or flecks, but the image lacks contrast and sharpness, and is so dark, soft and murky in places it could almost pass as a release on VHS.

Fortunately, it excels in all other areas, particularly in terms of the extra's for a film that was only released in theatres a few short months ago. The sound design is excellent, and there is good use of surround sound throughout, particularly when there is a need to ramp up the tension. I'd be surprised if this wasn't up for a BAFTA 'Best Sound' award this year.

As well as the expected Commentary from the director, cast and crew, there's an excellent half hour Making of that is very much a behind-the-scenes on-set diary, rather than the marketing fluff such featurettes can be on many DVDs.

The Being Danny Dyer featurette at around eight minutes is quirky, funny and original in its own way and well worth a viewing, as are the Deleted Scenes, if only for Danny's tripping sequence which features Carry On stalwart Leslie Phillips as the voice of a talking deer. Wonderful stuff. All the deleted scenes have an optional director's commentary.

The problems of a shoot that had to use a lot of Hungarian crew are revealed in part on the informative, and also amusing, Not So Special Effects Featurette where the rather cavalier, amateur standards of the Hungarian 'professionals' are revealed. Effect after effect is shown going wrong, and in one case almost ends in a fatal injury, and these scenes are intercut with interview excerpts from the individuals responsible, explaining one minute that they only got involved in the effects business because of the money, while claiming the next that they're used to working on much bigger projects. You couldn't invent this stuff!

Other minor featurettes round out the disk, and there's enough here to keep you entertained for the same running time as the original film.

Severance comes highly recommended. It's not often we Brits can give ourselves a pat on the back for turning out good films, but films like Severance mean we don't have to give up totally on any notion of a quality British film industry. Check it out, or if you want a taster for one of the sicker, although admittedly less sophisticated, comedy moments check out the exclusive excerpt that's been posted as a teaser on this American site (follow the link and click on the "Exclusive Clip (MP)" link on the left under the heading "Trailers + Clips" - thanks to for publicising the link).

Severance screencap

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