When I reviewed Exam last week, I was likening it to the two day training session I had at work. Well, this movie is far more relevant to that joke. Severance follows a group of weapons company executives on a team-building exercise somewhere in Eastern Europe. We’re not exactly sure where, as, when their bus driver refuses to take a particular route (sounds like an adorable old Transylvian horror cliche already), the group argue over whether it’s Romania or Bulgaria, as bears exist in the former and not the latter. And then a bear shambles past in the background. But it was filmed in Hungary. And made with British and German money. Whatever.
We get some awkward attempts at establishing the protagonists, but it’s built around either on-screen charisma (I can’t believe I’m talking about Danny Dyer as I say this, but he was quite likably decent in this), or quick-fire character tropes (nice girl; stuck-up feminist; jobsworth team leader; acerbic cunt; sweet foreigner etc.), thereby accelerating character development so that we can get it over with. It’s also fair to say that the fact that you’ve likely worked alongside many of these wimpering corporate stereotypes is another way we can get quickly acclimated to this hapless, motley group.
Aside from a “look-how-much-gore-we-can-do” opening scene, the weirdness builds up slowly, punctuated by random unsettling moments (like a creaky floorboard or a massive spider crawling up someone’s back and them not knowing about it), which would have been awesomely effective for anyone watching the movie without knowing anything about it, but, thanks to that opening scene, we know that the threat is scary weird killers in the woods. Oh, well.
Speaking of which, the opening kill gives us the impression that most of the gore is implied by keeping attacks out-of-shot, but nope, later on, when a logo is carved in a man’s torso, we get the full effect. So bizarre are the attacks and the killers that in the credits, they’re hilariously named after each of their various trademarks (none of which I will spoil for you). Possibly the most gruesome scene involves a man caught in a bear trap, made extra-grisly
(sorry) by the blacker-than-black humour from the other characters flailing and not knowing what the fuck they’re supposed to do because this isn’t the fucking office anymore!
And, alongside some realism, that’s kind of where the pathos lies, getting us to root for these feeble morons. In this horror movie, no-one is particularly intelligent, resourceful, kind or brave. No-one suddenly knows how to use a really complicated gun; no-one randomly becomes an expert at hide-and-seek, and no-one develops any commando-style fighting techniques. The cast really do act like a group of useless, corporate bellends, and their on-screen chemistry is convincing enough to keep the plot moving.
It’s a bit of shame, then, that I couldn’t often hear a lot of their banter, some of which I’d assumed to be improvised. I’m not sure if it was the source material (Netflix) or my TV, but I noticed a massive discrepancy in speech volume, even if the character didn’t appear to be raising his/her voice; it would be randomly low one minute and bloody loud the next. On the subject of sound, there are some tonal shifts that are awkwardly marked – nay, fucking puked on with a bloody highlighter – by overly-emotional, orchestral swells that go on a bit and just start to seem out of place.
But these are minor quibbles. Overall, I found this to be more than mildly entertaining; dialogue is nice and snappy; direction and editing smooth. Given the central role of a weapons manufacturer, it would have been nice to see a bit more bite in the movie’s barely-there attempts at satire. The overall humour is dark enough to play nice with the Hostel-style gore (unlike The Cottage, which had too many missteps into disturbia), and the actors settle into their roles nicely. While the characters are likable, they’re just unlikable enough that we’re not quite sure who (if anyone) is going to make it to the end, especially as our executive twats are wildly outgunned. So enjoy this little gem of a flick because of its sheer unpredictability, which is now a pretty rare thing for a horror movie.