Nothing against SEVERANCE, but there’s a big part of me that can't help but wish it were a documentary about Joan Severance, the actress and model who starred in many late-night cable movies of the 1980s and 1990s.
Instead, SEVERANCE is a horror-comedy-horror movie from director Christopher Smith, whose movies are well worth catching up on for horror fans. What I like about what he does is that you can’t quite pin down what he does. He works under the general banner of horror, but between his previous film, CREEP, and this, it’s already clear that he isn’t interested in repeating himself. CREEP is a deadpan account of a young woman being terrorized in an underground train station. SEVERANCE is gory gross-out horror that also is more than halfway a comedy.
The tone of SEVERANCE is grim but very, drily, arch. The story involves a group of British and American businesspeople on a company team-building getaway, which is really a flimsy excuse to get a bunch of white-collar uptights up into the woods at a remote cabin where they can eventually get picked apart by an assailant of mysterious origins. You probably wouldn’t recognize many of the cast members, besides THE FACULTY’s Laura Harris and Toby Stephens (the ‘young Clint’ from SPACE COWBOYS), if any, but everyone involved all manage to hit the perfect tone. SEVERANCE is much more serious than The Office (which the cover art and posters work hard to associate it with), but much less serious than HOSTEL or whatever other torture-horror it might get compared to.
It’s a fun late-night watch, but SEVERANCE feels more like a tonal exercise for its talented director, rather than a major work or a new cult classic. It has crisp, appealing cinematography by Ed Wild, snappy editing by Stuart Gazzard, and a superior score by Christian Henson. It's a well-made movie, but it doesn't ultimately resonate too strongly. The movie has a fun, gleefully anarchic tone at the beginning, but the pace slackens at the middle, and the last third is solidly-done but rather standard -- even if the idea for the villain is relatively original, and certainly indicative of Smith’s thematic and satirical goals. Overall, I liked it but I didn’t love it. That's not in any way to say that I’m not still extremely enthusiastic about seeing Smith's next films, because I am.