Another bloody office outing
Ladies and Gentlemen, this review has been certified as being SPOILER FREE for your reading pleasure. Thank-you.
So, our boy RalphyK gone done written a screenplay... and there can't not be a review of the film that was made from this screenplay on E2, else we'd be letting down one of our own. Though I must admit that I feel strange reviewing the film of someone who's a greatly missed (and revered) character of old, because I never knew the guy. Never spoken to him, wouldn't recognise him if we passed on the street. Like ships in the night, I signed up for this place exactly one month after he logged in for the final time. However, this lack of familiarity is also kind of useful, because it means that I can be as brutal as I like, safe in the knowledge that he neither knows what I look like or where I live.
Now I have no idea how one goes about selling a screenplay that they've worked their heart and soul out over, but RalphyK managed it. One thing then led to another and before you know it, he'd teamed up with director Christopher Smith (whose previous films include the 2004 horror-flick, Creep) and was seeing the script that he probably spent a fair bit of time on being acted out and filmed by a bunch of people he'd never met before.
Funny how life turns out, eh?
Severance was released in the UK on the 25th August 2006, but special special people got to go to the premiere on the 24th August, where Severance was screened as part of FrightFest. It was a charity showing and everything, so everyone got to enjoy a night out at the cinema and get the smug feeling of having helped raise money for people / animals / trees / extremist political organisations in need. The charity in question this time was the Teenage Cancer Trust who I'm pretty sure aren't an extremist political organisation, but you never can tell these days.
Now I'm not a special special person (merely spefful, unfortunately) so I didn't attend the premiere (though I have been assured by a couple of gents that did attend that it was a great success and a good time was had by all.) Nope, I went to see it at the Peckham Multiplex - yes, that's the Peckham of Only Fools and Horses fame - which wasn't quite so... impressive. There's a reason I have a policy of never going south of the river, but I lost the scissor-paper-stone call to my best mate, so, Peckham it was. The cinema smelt, the floor was sticky, and I have no idea what the guy at the other end of our row of seats was doing; I just adopted the 'eyes forward at all times' strategy for that last one and hoped for the best. But, I had a ticket for the 15:35 showing of Severance in my grubby mitt, so it wasn't all bad.
I deliberately didn't watch the trailers for Severance because those things tend to give away all the best bits; the problem with advertising a horror film is that the distributors often want to show the prospective audience exactly how scary this film is... by showing them the scary bits in the trailer. Same for comedy films. So, given that this was meant to be a comedy-horror (horror-comedy?), I thought the trailer was probably best avoided. All I knew about it was what a couple of impressed Britnoders had told me, and even that was a little too much. What can I say? I like being a blank canvas, ready to receive new experiences unclouded by the thoughts of others or some such bollocks.
So, in the same vein, I'm only going to give the barest minimum of what happens so that you too can go the cinema and enjoy the film without too many 'oh, here comes the bit where they...' moments.
I can't spell success without 'you'.
The basic premise of the film is 'group of employees dispatched to isolated area in the name of team-building, cops it via unknown assailant'. Now, for me, that's enough of a horror story as it is – team building exercises? Any of you bastards even try to make me build a bridge and I'm going to go postal. The group of employees are Steve (the wonderfully cock-a-knee Danny Dyer), Maggie (Laura Harris – 24, Dead Like Me), Harris (Toby Stephens – Die Another Day), Jill (Claudie Blakley), Gordon (Andy Nyman), and Billy (Babou Ceesay). They work for Palisade Defence, a company that has been earning a living now for several decades by doing that whole 'international weapons manufacturer and distributor' thing that appears to have been profitable since way back when someone looked at the rock in their hand and muttered to themselves "if I could find a way to throw this faster and harder, it'd do more damage". Leading up this merry gang of office monkeys is Richard (Tim McInnerny –Blackadder), the stereotypical manager who is full of pomp and bluster, but also riddled with intellectual and social insecurities. Together, they're travelling to the new Palisade Defence luxury lodge located deep within the forests of Hungary. When a fallen tree in the road stops the coach from going any further, Richard takes the executive decision that they'll continue on foot. 'Hilarity and horror' then ensues as each member of the team is dispatched in a variety of gory ways over the next 36hrs.
This is the first horror movie that I've seen in a long while that makes the effort to give the characters depth, personality and social inter-dynamics before offing them. They're all very stereotypical characters, but that's a given considering that you've only got so long before you start killing them off; best to show the audience something they already know, and then tweak it a little to suit your own ends. Thus we have:
- Steve – laddish bloke who would list his pastimes as being drugs, naked ladies, and slacking off of work
- Maggie – hardworking, tough and intelligent; speaks a lot of sense and is frustrated by no one listening to it
- Harris – competitive, arrogant, and constantly chipping away at Richard's authority
- Jill – compassionate and socially aware as well as being practical and down-to-earth (a weapons developer with a conscience, in other words); plays Velma to Maggie's Daphne
- Gordon – over-enthusiastic and well-meaning, but regarded as a bit of a pleb by the rest of the group
- Billy – honest and general all-round-good-guy who you can't help but like
I think you'll find that you've got all the basics for a good set of horror-movie characters there. The difference is that a great deal of screen time is dedicated to demonstrating their relationship to each other before the gore and violence starts; all the while you have the standard atmospheric strings
playing that are used to wind up the tension in a horror movie during the quiet parts when you know something's
going to happen, just not when
it's going to happen. Thus, instead of what could have potentially been a collection of rather two dimensional characters that we don't really care about when the blood does finally start flying
, you do actually find yourself hoping against hope that they'll pull together as a team and get out of there alive
I saw a geezer with a balaclava and suitcase... ... ... no... ... more of a travel bag.
— Steve (post-psilocybin consumption)
The horror / thriller aspect of the film is done as well as should be expected; the story starts off as being mildly unnerving, and then gradually starts racking up the tension before completely kicking off and not stopping till the credits roll. Yes, a lot of it is predictable, but that's to be expected; the horror genre's been going on so long now that everything that could be done with regards to killing characters and scaring the punters has been done. The trick now is to take all these old plot devices and give them a new spin so that you don't actually care that 'you knew that was going to happen'. Similar to how the music hall entertainment of old would recycle the same jokes over and over and yet still be entertaining, the joy in watching a well-made modern horror flick is in the perfect execution (excuse the pun) of a well-known plot device. Severance does this admirably, and in some scenes manages to turn the conventions on their head to leave the viewer thinking 'oh, that didn't do what I thought it was going to.' Which is very good indeed.
The comedy aspect of the film is also done well. There were a lot of pre-release, prospective discussing of how this was going to compare to the rom/zom/com of 2004, Shaun of the Dead. Now, I'm going to admit something here that I don't tell a lot of people: I didn't think Shaun of the Dead was that great. Controversial view, I know. I love Spaced more than is probably healthy, but Shaun of the Dead was a bit of a letdown for me, and I find it hard to explain why. It's probably just a case of 'it wasn't Spaced', but even then, I walked out of Shaun of the Dead feeling a bit short-changed. It just wasn't funny enough when it was trying to be funny, and wasn't scary enough in the few moments where it did try to be scary.
I didn't get that at all from Severance; this is because they are completely different films, trying to achieve different things (but people decided to compare them because each claim comedy and horror as constituent parts.) With Severance, there is an excellent combination of a decent script with a director who has an eye for detail. There is a scene at the end of the film that most people are either going to love or find incredibly distasteful, but the rest is a mix of comedy and horror in (for the most part) just the right proportions. It doesn't take itself seriously, which a lot of modern horror films have tried to do. Horror films have a long and glorious history of not taking themselves seriously, and it's this lack of tongue-in-cheekness that has made for some truly awful Hollywood horrors in the last decade. However, by the same measure, there isn't too much comedy; it's not trying to be constantly clever at you, which would have taken the edge off of the genuine horror / fright moments that it achieves.
So, the long and short of it? Probably one of the best British films that we've seen in a recent years, especially for this genre. Nice one, RalphyK.
Whoever the fuck it is you are.
Running time: 96 minutes
Written by: James Moran, Christopher Smith
Directed by: Christopher Smith
For all the USians out there who are sitting on the edge of their seats asking "when can I get to watch this celluloid masterpiece, the likes of which the world has seen before because the horror genre has it limits, but this one's been made by one of our own, goddamnit?" the current release date in the US is on 9th March 2007. However, movie release dates are slightly less reliable than trains, so don't be booking the day off work or anything just yet.