Monday, March 2, 2009

You Can't Fire Me. I'm Dead!

Your co-workers are generally not your friends. Nor are they family or even the people you might share half priced appetizers with over happy hour. Still, what a show like The Office knows is that the men and women you see every day occupy a definite place in your life. There is unwritten protocol for dealing with your manager, who in turn has his or her own understanding in agreeing or disagreeing with the big boss. Temp a bit in any work setting and chances are good that you’ll meet the token kissup, the hotshot who somehow avoids termination despite a bad attitude towards superiors, and the good-looking worker who amasses a batch of unrequited crushes around the cubicles.

Severance, a 2006 horror comedy from the UK, starts with a deliciously ripe premise. Employees from Palisade Defense (the kind of company funded by both the American and British government, hence, in one character’s words, “They’re not going to do anything immoral”) are being rewarded/tortured with a “team building” getaway in the forests of what seems to be Hungary. When their bus encounters a block in the road and the driver refuses to go any farther, the mid-level manager forces his underlings onward to an abandoned home he takes to be the luxury lodge they were promised. Before long, strategically placed bear traps, land mines, and flame throwers force staff cooperation that no paintball game could ever muster.

Having gone on two “management training” weekends (once to a ski resort, once to an abandoned country house not unlike the setting of this film), I identified quickly with the poor chaps in Severance. While my experiences were not quite as bloody, they did include “teamwork” exercises like building egg parachutes and making crayon murals of what our jobs meant to us. The idea was nice, but spending those precious days of the week normally reserved for avoiding all semblances of the workplace with co-workers in their pajamas does nothing to endear your occupation to your heart. Severance gets that.

Also, it’s pretty much hysterical. The actors--mostly British with a token Canadian Faculty alum Laura Harris--have excellent comic timing and genuinely feel like an unhappy office family. Toby Stephens stands out as the snarkiest of the bunch, but every performance rings true. Director/co-writer Christopher Smith consistently balances humor with horror in a way that made me chuckle and wince throughout the running time. There’s gore a’plenty, and since you actually like the characters, the deaths come with added weight.

High Points
A conversation about decapitation gets a payoff that’s kept a smile on my face for two days and counting

Removable shelves should be standard on compact refrigerators; you never know what large object you might need to stick inside

It’s refreshing to see multiple female characters making smart and ballsy decisions throughout the film

Low Points
Perhaps the early talking scenes go on a tad too long for bloodthirsty horror hounds, but it’s all entertaining

No trust exercises?

Lessons Learned
Do not attempt to pry open a bear trap unless you have the strength to keep it opened long enough to dislodge what’s stuck inside

Hold music is crappy in any language

Always read the instructions before firing a rocket launcher

The standard baking time for a found meat pie is one hour

This one belongs on your shelf, preferably next to Shawn of the Dead for a match made in British Horror Heaven (where Peter Cushing guards the gates, of course). Imagine throwing the characters of The Office into the hostel in Hostel, and you’ll get a good idea of what to expect. The gore is high and the laughs are hearty. Pour some tea and enjoy with a scone.


  1. I loved it! I loved that at the end, I had totally forgot about the beginning, making the reappearance so much funnier to me.

  2. I totally agree Shemp. Once the action got going, I was so invested in the characters and plot that I didn't even think of the opening.