Christopher Smith’s Severance is a funny and bloody good time. It starts off slowly, establishing characters, relationships and the background story on why these people are taking this retreat. It is all about team building and developing their marketing department into a more cohesive and lucid corporate appendage. Once they are stranded in an isolated cabin complex, one of the standard screenplay setups for the horror genre, the characters relax and begin taking in the rustic scenery. Humor and jokes fill the first half of this film even though it is laced with foreboding tales of insane asylums, soldiers and war criminals. The characters automatically dismiss these stories as just make-believe and for that matter, so does the audience. Unfortunately for the former and thank god for the latter, the harshest of these stories turn out to be a very real reality.
What starts out as a retreat and a useless exercise in most of the marketer’s minds turns by the film’s mid-point into a struggle for their very survival. Some harsh events and situations transpire in this film, some cruel and unforgiving while others are laced with satire. It is this mixture that is very reminiscent of Eli Roth’s Cabin Fever. This film however is much more realistically brutal than Cabin Fever, though both films’ plots are inherently comical in nature. This humorous tendency lends to other jocular aspects of Severance but at the same time affects the legitimacy of its more serious qualities. Most people know, because of the marketing campaign for this film, what they will get walking into it, so realism legitimacy issues are in a way mitigated.
This issue aside, Severance is a film full of surprises. Just when you think you see where the film might be going, who or what the villain is, the unexpected happens. There is a palpable moment in the film where Severance goes from its eventual seriousness to a violent conflict with a superior enemy. From this point on, landmines, decapitations plus many other creative deaths await the protagonists. If you listened closely to one of the earlier stories about what their particular cabin complex and the surrounding area had once been, it is not such a surprise who or what the villain turns out to be. But as I said earlier, this story is told in such a way that you do not take it seriously upon first hearing it.
Severance is a horror-comedy without the overt goofiness of some of the other films in its horror genre, though it does telegraph some of its more puerile laughs even before they occur. These frivolities, along side the film’s plot and the protagonists eventual peril, make this film an entertaining diversion. Not a memorable diversion mind you but an entertaining one.