Leave it to the British to once again teach us a thing or two about our all-American horror movies.
Severance imagines the standard victims-trapped-in-the-woods-with-a-killer formula. A bunch of British working stiffs for a defense company go for a weekend team building retreat. En route to their swank weekend pad, the bus driver freaks out and crashes. While most rational adults would call it a day and wait for assistance, they are threatened with pink slips unless they trek through the woods to complete the weekend exercises. The cabin they arrive at is not what they imagined, run down and filled with odd remnants of past inhabitants. Soon enough, a killer is after them, picking off the suits one by one. There's the a-hole who's actually right about everything that's going wrong but nobody listens to him because he's so smug. There's the ultimate optimist who's sure everything will turn out OK. Then finally there's the virtuous girl who perseveres and kicks ass.
These crafty Brits understand the stereotypes they're playing and relish them. Toby Stephens (Die Another Day) makes the perfect smug jerk off. He's the office horn dog and the last guy you'd want to be stranded with but really if anyone just listened to him, they wouldn't find themselves in such a mess. British thesp Andy Nyman plays the ultimate suck up--a bit slow socially but not a cartoon character. No matter how awful the situation gets, he's just convinced the boss has a plan and they'll all be a better team after this experience. Laura Harris (TV's Dead Like Me) is the perfect heroine. As the only American in the cast, she's just trying to survive and when it hits the fan, she knows how to handle her weapons. Tim McInnerny (Notting Hill) is the perfect sleazeball boss. He doesn't seem to care about the company at all; it's just a free weekend vacation to him. Everyone takes their licks like pros with an appropriate wink.
Just as the Brits who did Shaun of the Dead spoofed zombie movies, writer/director Christopher Smith clearly knows his '80s slasher horror movies, making loving references to all their superficial traits in his first major feature effort. He never mocks the genre, just executes it with enough twists to show an intelligent observation on how these movies work. For example, there has to be some reason why they don't just leave the woods. The bus gets them there, but the job requirements keep them going. The deaths are as gory as can be, but they either pay off a previous reference or happen so excessively they are ridiculous in their own right. The film builds like a traditional thriller with an intentional deliberateness. Then by the time all hell breaks loose, the film becomes outrageousin gore and in humor. It would be too bad if people think we've had enough horror spoofs because Severance is an excellent addition.
Hollywood.com rated this film 3 stars.