Thursday, September 20, 2007

Severance (2006)

I was primed to call this one "The Office meets Friday the 13th part VI" and then I saw the fucking DVD cover claiming this picture to be "The Office meets The Hills Have Eyes". Fuck me. I thought about being sneaky and finding a poster that didn't include that quote. Then, maybe when you guys later rented the DVD and saw the cover you might consider how brilliant I must have been to have thought of that first, only logic would still really point me out as a fraud. So, better my being upfront about my potential transgressions that I so clearly, in the end, deemed beneath me. Anyway, where was I? Yes, Severance. It's "Office Space meets The Hills Have Eyes. Part II! Not the sequel to the remake. Instead, the one with the bus. Also, the reformed cannibal who is now a vegetarian." If there's an Ultimate edition DVD in six months, I hope they put that one on the cover.

For about 45 minutes, this is a brilliant, darkly humorous, slasher film. There's a fun pre-title sequence involving two scantily clad, beautiful and busty women running from some unseen terror in the woods. Oh, there's also some middle aged, paunchy guy also fleeing that same terror, albeit, running in a different direction. Anyway, the guy falls victim to a rope trap. You know, one of those things that catches around your foot, sets off a counterweight, and sends you shooting up into the trees, helplessly inverted, so that a masked psychopath can come up and gut you like a pig? Meanwhile, the girls fall into a brush covered pit. In order to escape they remove everything but their undergarments to make a rope. Still, a little too short, the less busty brunette looks over at her friends bra: "Nadia, we are short only a little bit". I think I might like this movie.

You know what? The post-title sequence isn't too shabby either, for a little while anyway. We join our heroes as they travel across Eastern Europe in a tour bus, commisioned by Palisade Defence. It's the annual Palisade team building trip and these unfortunate souls are off to an isolated lodge in the forests of Hungary. The Palisade Defence sales team consists of Richard; the David Brent-like boss, Maggie; the hot AND feisty American blonde, Jill; the slightly obnoxious brunette, Steve; the Jeff from Coupling-like rube, Gordon; the Gareth-like, by the book, kiss the bosses ass, trip organizer, Harris; the smarmy good looking guy us guys hate, and Billy; token black guy. Oh yeah, there's an asshole Czech bus driver too, but he doesn't last long and is even killed off screen. On the way to the lodge, a tree blocks the road. The driver, refuses to take a detour claiming he's heard "bad things" about the other road. He kicks the Palisade sales team off the bus and forces them to go by foot. See? Asshole.

The opening scenes, up until the lodge are actually pretty funny. The director, Christopher Smith (Creep, the one with Franka Potente), ratchets up the terror using sound and music and at the height of all this tension, something happens that we would never expect such as a guy burping or a floorboard cracking. He plays with our expectations of slasher films and then skirts the cliches or, at least, modifies them so they feel original. There's one scene involving a character investigating a dark room when suddenly we, the audience, hear two knives scraping together. The character turns because he hears what we hear, or so we think. Here, we are treated to a quick cut to another character in a well lit room scraping those same knives (we assume) together in order to cut some cheese, by the way, a pretty nice homage to Wallace & Gromit I'm sure. There's also a terrific dream sequence that is unlike any I have ever seen, with an end that is both highly original and funny.

I enjoyed the dinner coversation which involved the characters telling stories about the lodge and the area where they were staying. One involved a silent movie sequence about an insane asylum where the inmates took over. Of course, Palisade Defence was involved in resolving the incident. Another story involved crazy Russian guerillas. Again Palisade Defence is contracted. My favorite story was the one about the sexed up busty nurses at the old folks home. When the geriatrics could no longer satisfy them, they had to turn to each other. So, basically, the dinner serves as a multiple choice for what our heroes are going up against here. I didn't notice a (D) for "all of the above."

I liked Richard and Steve. Richard has to pretend to be in control, even when everything goes to shit, although he does a piss poor job of it. He gives a nice Brent-esque speech early on, however, when he says "I can't spell success without U....and U....and U...uh...and U. Oh, and U." The scenes with Richard talking go on and on, well past the point of awkwardness. Steve, like Richard, would probably not be my first choice for a weapons sales man. He's kind of a bumbling idiot, albeit, slightly loveable. On the bus ride, he consumed an entire bag of magic mushrooms and then spends the next thirty minutes of the film worrying that he's pissed himself. I kinda liked Maggie (Laura Harris) too, but primarily for another reason:

She's got that Jane Mancini quality, doesn't she? She's also an american, so it's a little strange, for a British film anyway, that she's the hero. She definitely has that american quality of not running away in the face of danger. You know? She stands up to the aggressor(s), gets her hands dirty, brandishes a shotgun while the British hide in the bushes. God bless America. Leave the humor to the Brits. When it comes to Rambo-like asskicking, always pick the American. Seriously. Even IF that American is a girl.

sidenote: In the movie, she's American. In real life, Laura Harris is actually, gasp, Canadian!

This film features the best slasher movie paintball scene since Friday the 13th Part VI, that's for sure. Steve partnered with Billy (a little shy around the dames), issues the classic line "english birds aren't complicated. You buy them a baccardi breezer and they'll ride you like seabuiscit". The paintball game features one of the most tense, painful, so annoying it will have you screaming at your tv, bear-trap scenes. One of the things I liked about this movie is that, for the most part, the characters acted like real people. They rarely went off alone, fled in the face of danger, and spent large portions of the films second half hiding. This scene is no exception, and, oddly enough, I fucking hated it. Just pull his fucking leg out of the bear trap. Open and pull!!! Is it really that hard???

Unfortunately, it's after this scene (about 45 minutes in) that the movie begins to lose some steam. There's a beheading which is WAY TOO cute, considering that earlier the same character that was beheaded discussed how Marie Antoinette was able to see her own headless stump spurting blood for seconds after the blade dropped. There's a death by blowtorch scene, but the actual kill is off camera. One guy is filleted alive. Another poor bastard was blown away with a shotgun blast to the chest, only I didn't realize it at the time. There's a funny scene involving a knife in the sphincter. Yes, it's funny, trust me, ok? In the end, a couple of our characters even make it to the lodge they were supposed to have gone to in the first place. We're witness to a weapons testing that results in the funniest take down of a commuter airliner I have ever seen. Too soon? These scenes were all well and good, but felt completely removed from the film that preceeded them. The slasher movie element was replaced by, well, Rambo. Although, with a little more humor, a little more satire. I didn't like where it ended up, and yet I didn't expect it either. On that note, I guess, Christopher Smith is to be commended.

Let's be frank for a minute. This is a message film. The message, at first, seems a little mixed. Guns are bad. Palisade Defence put them in the wrong hands and now they are paying for it. Suddenly, our heroes find themselves with guns, and are not too reluctant to blow away bad guys. So, now they're kinda good? Then, a bazooka is used to, albeit accidentaly, shoot down an airliner. This one had me laughing pretty good, but I think I still managed to catch the message here. Bad, right? I think the films stronger message is that bear traps and land mines are awful. Any kind of weapon that is left in the ground to maim something or somebody, potentially weeks later, is not my kind of weapon. That's the message I took away from this film, but then I already knew that. My appreciation for guns hasn't really waned though. I know this because I had a big old smile on my face when a couple of topless buxom eurotrash hookers (I'm not degrading women because this was their actual occupation) blew away a villain with machine guns. Now. Topless chicks with guns? Another message I can certainly agree with.

Unfortunately, right after that, the credits came up and I was subjected to Ed Harcourt's version of "We'll Meet Again." Now I KNOW guns must be really bad because if I had one, there'd be a big gaping hole in my TV.


Beepy said...

Excellent review. I might actually rent this one just to see how a beheading can be "cute".

By the way, it should be a lesson to young girls everywhere - Dress as if you might be falling into a pit later and have to make a rope out of your clothing. Queen Victoria or Hester Prynne would have been out of that pit and merrily on there way in seconds, still wearing enough not to catch a cold.

Beepy said...

Ooops, THEIR way. I really have to proofread before I hit "post".

brian said...


that is a TERRIBLE lesson! These girls had more than enough clothes to get out of that ditch.

Gianni said...

An interesting premise, I never see the Brits putting together a decent horror movie, that despite decent films as The Trench and Dog Soldiers. Sounds like I've added another winner to my netflix list!

brian said...

"I never see the Brits putting together a decent horror film"

Gianni, have you seen The Descent? How about 28 Days/Weeks Later? How about The Wicker Man (the original?). Any of the Hammer films? They've had a few.

Ok, I have yet to see The Trench, but, based on what I know, it seems more like a claustrophobic war film, not really a horror film. Am I missing something? Das Boot is probably the most claustrophobic movie ever made, but I don't think I'd call it a horror film.

Regardless, I love a good war film and will be adding The Trench to my queue.

Gianni said...

Yes, again, my ignorance is paramount. I'd completely forgotten about The Descent and 28 Days later, both excellent films in my opinion. I simply meant though that when you think horror films, you almost always think of them in an American setting (Friday the 13'th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween etc) And see the Trench, I promise you it's not just a claustrophobic war film, nothing like the superior Das Boot.

brian said...

I'm moving The Trench up on my queue.

One more British film to check out: Peeping Tom. It was Psycho before Psycho was Psycho.

Oh, and I've decided to change back to the original template. It may not be as easy to read, but (on the suggestion of Rebekah & I agree) it's more fitting when you consider the subject matter.

Beepy said...

I personally like the white letters on a black background, if that is what you mean. I find it just as easy to read as black letters on white. But what do I know?