Monday, January 29, 2007


As the closing credits of 'Severance' rolled on the screen in front of me yesterday evening, I experienced many emotions at once. Wonder, as to how the movie-makers managed to blag their way into a big budget production such as this. Regret, that a mildly promising cast and a half-decent idea had been so appallingly wasted. But the main feeling was one of disgust, and mainly with myself, that I had decided to watch this movie in the first place. Self-loathing is a temporary emotion, however, and quickly gives way to a desire to put the blame on someone else. With this need in mind, I decided to focus on the vaguely worrying feeling that, once again, I had been duped, sideswiped if you will, by the movie marketeers.

Thanks to my middle-class background, and the fact that it was free god-dammit, university, in some shape or form, was always on the cards for me as a teenager. However, with the Leaving Cert exams looming large back in the winter of 1994, I realised I didnt have a clue what I wanted to do with my life. French? Maybe. Psychology? Sure. But to do what, exactly? Difficult questions that I couldn't answer. My career guidance teacher was a big help, and pointed out that many people who didn't have a clue how to do anything often did a business course in university. Plus, if you take the language option, you get an Erasmus year abroad, c'est fantastique! I was sold, promptly applied for a business course with French, and spent two solid years drinking paint-thinner wine and chemically processed beer in northern france. Happy days.

However, amidst all the hazy hangovers and Gallic swearing, there were a few classes to attend. Marketing was my major, so we covered advertising, branding all that stuff, and it was mind-blowing to see the techniques that are used by businesses to get you to think about their products. Marketing is a cousin of propaganda in that the techniques are relatively unscientific, but involve strong methods of persuasion, with the aim of influencing behaviour in the name of economic activities... Strong images are used (brands). Slogans are used. The primary aim is to influence behaviour. The secondary aim is to appear 'good' to the 'consumer'...

So as an embittered ex-marketing student, I now hate most advertising with a passion. However, there is one major exception: I am a sucker for a good movie ad campaign. For example, the trailer for 'Transformers' makes me keen to see the film, and I'm unashamed to admit it. The 'Live Free or Die Hard' trailer appeals to me too, and it's more the packaging of the trailer that has the effect than the expected content of the finished movie. I know this, but the trailer still works on me. I can feel my behaviour being influenced, and I don't let it bother me...

The marketing campaign for 'Severance' was quite strong. The poster was well designed, and the slogan 'another bloody office outing' was memorable enough to remain at 'top of mind'. The trailer was punchy, and it was billed as a smart, escapist modern horror flick. Initial reviews in the British tabloid press were very positive... (Ok, so my case is getting weaker here!)

For whatever the reasons, I did watch Severance, and I have to say that, as both a former marketing student, and as someone who fancies himself as a bit of a cinephile, the marketing is without a doubt the best thing this movie has to offer.

The story, what little there is, involves employees from an arms manufacturing company being dropped in the middle of the Hungarian wilderness on the premise of a team-building weekend. Something's lurking in the bushes though, and it doesn't take long before people are being hacked up.

So it's a horror, but it's also attempting to be a comedy. In fairness, there are a couple of funny moments near the beginning, mostly involving Danny Dyer and the drugs he regularly consumes. Danny Dyer is a very frustrating guy to me. He showed real promise in 'Human Traffic' and has pretty much just made bad films since then. His self-indulgent movie choices seem to hinge on whether or not he'll be embarassed to tell the lads about his character down the boozer after the footie. This character in Severance is no different to the ones he played in 'The Football Factory', 'The Business', 'Mean Machine' etc etc. This cockney wideboy humour is funny for a few minutes, but it just can't carry a movie. Dyer has the best lines and the best moments in the movie, but the occasional chuckle does not a comedy make.

The thing is, comedy/horror is a deceptively difficult genre to effectively capture. James Gunn made a great effort with 'Slither' and the results were more than watchable. However, Gunn's movie was the product of years of immersion in the genre, and the depth of his knowledge for, and love of this type of film was all up there on screen. Conversely, James Moran and Christopher Smith, the two guys behind 'Severance', don't seem to have paid any dues to the basic requirements of a genre movie such as Severance is, like it or not.

First off, the heroes need to be believable people, or at least likeable. In Severance, we have a collection of what are at best office stereotypes (the annoying boss, the laddish rebel, the human resources dweeb, the pandering second-in-command, the bullish finance type). At worst, these are simply two-dimensional cardboard cutouts of people. With people like this at the heart of the movie, who cares if they die or not? Second, the monster/bad man needs to have a creepy back-story. In this case, the baddies are soldiers. What's scary about that? Thirdly, if you're going to have gruesome scenes in the movie, then the two previous conditions need to have been met, but mainly, the victims should deserve it. Horror isn't just about slashers killing people, it's about immoral or bad people getting their cumuppance, and the hero winning out in the end... until the twist at least!

But on a more basic level, the plot is meandering, the story seemed to have reached a natural conclusion twice in the first forty-five minutes, and after an hour, I just didn't care any more.

Also, in it's gore levels, I felt 'Severance' went a little over the top at times, and made me think of the nasty, despicable 'Wolf Creek' more than once.

The characters are annoying, the script is awful and it is unsettling to me that a movie audience are supposed to be happy about employees from an arms manufacturing company winning out over a collection of Eastern european soldiers who were fucked over by them in the first place. If there is irony in this plot, then it's lost on me. Congratulations to Severance for receiving the second lowest score ever awarded on PCMR!

The Verdict: Neither scary nor good fun. A half-decent idea, but very poorly executed. Avoid.
The Rating: 4/10

No comments:

/** Amazon Affiliates code /** Google Analytics Code