Thursday, August 31, 2006

30th August 06 - Severance

People getting lost in the middle of nowhere and then hunted down by some creepy dude is almost a genre in itself. It’s an old favourite with horror folk, and can be seen everywhere, like this year’s remake The Hills Have Eyes (creepy dude in desert), last year’s Wolf Creek (creepy dude in outback), the old classic Friday the 13th (creepy dude in summer camp) and the once banned The Burning (creepy dude with a pair of shears.)

What you expect from these films is bland characters, a bit of build up, and then lots of running about and getting killed. They can be done well (Wolf Creek) or badly (the abysmal remake of Texas Chainsaw) but they generally do what they say on the tin. Well, if the tin says “people run about and get killed.” What Severance has done is take the tin and wedge it into a big comedy bottle to form some sort of weird tin/bottle hybrid. And… what on earth am I talking about?

Right, Severance is a British horror. Take one bus load of office workers, send them to a Romanian forest for a team building weekend, and throw in a few crazy guys with a penchant for torture. It’s not rocket science. It’s people running about in a forest getting killed. But it also veers from the usual template of this genre, and adds a decent script, likeable characters and some moments of absurd hilarity. And this is why it shines. One moment you’re tensely waiting for something to jump out at them. The next they’re berating the office nerd for feeding them a pie he ‘found’ (“but it was wrapped in tin foil…”) One minute you’re wincing as a rusty bear trap goes snap. The next you’re laughing out loud as there’s a struggle to fit a severed leg into the fridge.

There’s banter, black humour, pokes at the recent ‘terror’ obsession, extreme violence and sometimes-verging-on-inappropriate belly laughs. What more do you want? How about self awareness? Writer/Director Christopher Smith is a big horror fan, and knows all too well what he’s doing here. Example: he knows that these sorts of film often shamelessly feature women’s boobies. So he shamelessly shows some too – but in such a way that you can almost feel him smirking behind the camera. As such, rather than have the usual “oh for god’s sake” reaction to such female exploitation, I’m just laughing away at the topless bird firing a machine gun in slow motion. But Severance never descends into total parody. Like Snakes on a Plane, though it recognises the various pitfalls of its chosen genre, it still sticks to the rules.

The horror in this film isn’t quite horror enough to be a successful horror film, and the comedy isn’t relentless enough for it to be a full-blown comedy. But with the two parts equally mixed, a new genre is created. Not like Shaun of the Dead (that is pure comedy, with occasional stabs of gore) and not like The Burning (horror, with occasional pangs of amusement), this is half an exciting yet scary run through the woods, and half a clever, hilarious jape. Maybe the best way to sum it up is “knife in the arse”. In reality, it’s pretty damn unpleasant. But it’s also funny as hell.

For a fresh take on a fun genre, this gets CF0, and for making me jump and laugh in equal parts, I’m giving this an extra point. CF1. Come on the British!

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