Christopher Smith's directorial debut, 2004's underseen and underrated subway-set horror film "Creep," was a small gem that deserved more credit. By adapting to a more jokey, self-deprecating tone (think Edgar Wright's "Shaun of the Dead
" crossed with the Broken Lizards' "Club Dread
") in his sophomore effort, he is likely to receive a little more attention. "Severance" is amusing in spurts, but a person learned in the slasher genre will spot it a mile away for what it really is: a lazy, at times plagiaristic, retread of countless movies that have come before it.
The employees of England-based weapons company Palisade Defense have traveled to the woodsy boondocks of Eastern Europe for a team-building weekend. When their bus' access is cut off by a tree covering the road, the coworkersamong them, affable druggie Steve (Danny Dyer) and smart, beautiful blonde Maggie (Laura Harris)are forced to walk to their destination. Once they arrive at a cabin, they aren't even sure if they have found the right place. Alas, that is the least of their problems. A crazed killer lurks outside, ready to cut, stab, shoot, decapitate, and eviscerate the new guests.
Though not as good as some people have built him up to be, Edgar Wright does a sure-footed job of mixing witty humor with genres that usually don't call for it. 2004's "Shaun of the Dead
" is a zombie movie, but it is also very funny and oddly romantic. The same could be said of his 2007 film "Hot Fuzz
," which added action conventions to the equation. "Severance" is on less solid ground. The humor, much of it broad and quirky, uneasily pairs up with the plotting of a more serious slasher film. There are a few big laughsi.e. one character fires a missile at the villain, only to instead watch it shoot into the sky and blow up a commercial airplane passing by; a frantic phone call to 911 is met with cheerful muzak on the other endbut they are rare exceptions to long, dry stretches. By and large, the characters are drearily written and undistinguished, lacking the offbeat charm to care about them. And as a stalk-and-slash picture, there are some imaginative death scenes, but not an ounce of scariness or even suspense; too much off-the-wall slapstick spoils its chances of achieving this.
The performances, none of them bad, show enough energetic glimmers that it's a shame they don't get more to do. Of them, only Danny Dyer and Laura Harris (2003's "A Mighty Wind
"), as Steve and Maggie, have characters rather than types to play. Dyer and Harris make a good team, bumbling and pratfalling one second and showing strength and brains the next. In a better film, they would be more noteworthy than that, but they are overshadowed by what is either an homage or a blatant rip-off of "Friday the 13th" and its sequels. The derivative music score sounds like it was lifted wholesale from that franchise. The "tree in the road" bit is from "Friday the 13th Part 2." A scene portraying a game of paintball in the woods is stolen from "Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives." Even the way that the killer is filmed and the arsenal of weapons used is a dead ringer for the series. Curiously, stale gags are predated by "Scary Movie
" and "Scream," but when Billy (Babou Ceesay) states, "I'll be right back," it is outrageous that he is not immediately killed thereafter.
For a horror aficionado like myself, "Severance" is entertaining on the basis that it is efficiently made and consists of a psycho killer stalking a gaggle of chopping blocks. Is it a good movie, though? Not really. The film is so reliant on stealing elements, ideas and jokes from other pictures that it scarcely finds its own individuality. It is also disappointing to find out the identity of the killer as the climax nears; it takes away what little threat and mystery was already there. Even worse, the said villain is about as monstrous and menacing as an average construction worker. Like a lesser '80s slasher moviethe type that simply rode the popularity wave without adding anything fresh to the formula"Severance" is fine while it lasts, and forgettable once it's over.