Severance (UK - DVD R2)
Scott McKenzie splits his sides laughing while blood splatters all over the place...
Arms manufacturer Palisades Defence sends a mismatched group of employees off on a team-bonding holiday and everything is going according to plan until they take a wrong turn. When the coach driver dumps them after reaching a block in the road, the group wind their way through the forests of Eastern Europe and find the ‘luxury’ lodge recently acquired by their employer. Once there, their boss puts them through some enforced corporate fun, which takes a turn for the worse when they realise they aren’t as alone as they thought they were and their woodland companions have a long-held grudge against the visitors.
On paper, Severance seems like an odd mix of genres. Comedy and horror rarely combine successfully in equal measures because the desired emotions of the audience are so different. Can you make someone laugh who is cowering with fear and can you scare the audience at the same time as they’re laughing their pants off? However, the storytelling techniques of horror and comedy are similar and it makes sense to attempt to combine the two. Both horrific and comedic moments rely on build-up followed by a pay-off and by combining these moments around a plot you have the simple structure of a scary or a funny movie.
My favourite scary movies are predominantly serious movies with a light sprinkling of comedy. Dawn of the Dead, Aliens, Halloween and even The Shining all have their lighter moments but they are scary movies at heart and the same goes for funny movies with a splash of horror thrown in (which I won’t list because I’m sure you get the point by now). Shaun of the Dead effectively blends the two genres together, as did last year’s Slither. Another title to add to the short but growing list is Severance.
The premise itself isn’t exactly original: seven colourful characters lost in the woods find themselves on the hit list of a group of angry and well-armed individuals. Comparisons with Deliverance and other survival movies are inevitable, but what sets Severance apart is the fact that Deliverance didn’t crack gags about severed heads, legs and surface-to-air missiles. The action kicks off after a lengthy build-up and when it does, the laughs flow as quickly as the characters’ blood. A prime example is the fight between Danny Dyer’s character and two bad guys: the combination of a knife in a tender spot and the line ‘this is gonna hurt’ as he is kicked to the ground made me wince as much as I laughed.
Danny Dyer, as cockney geezer Steve, is in danger of being typecast following similar performances in his recent movies, but sometimes it’s a good idea to stick to what you know. In Severance he does what he does best, even if it is difficult to imagine what job he manages to stay sober long enough to do for the company paying for his holiday. In the opening scenes when we’re getting to know the characters he looks incredibly out of place, having taken two different types of drug and booked prostitutes for his arrival before the credits have finished. Of course, the intention is to make him stand out from the crowd, but for the next ten minutes we’re left with him tripping out in some inventive but ultimately unnecessary scenes.
Token American Laura Harris should be more out of place, but she fits in well with the rest of the team and it’s a wonder why we don’t see her starring in bigger movies. She doesn’t have a lot to do early on but the focus of the movie switches to her character in the final reel and she shows she can do more than just turning in a typical ‘damsel in distress’ performance. The rest of the cast is made up of various actors viewers of British TV will recognise but I want to give a mention to first-time actor Babou Ceesay as Billy, whose performance in one scene belongs in a different, more heart-felt movie.
I thought director Christopher Smith’s previous film Creep suffered from Jeepers Creepers-syndrome; in other words it lost a lot of the tension once the main character came face to face with the bad guy. However, the tension is built over a longer period of time here and a screenplay that’s funnier than many pure comedy movies gives it an additional dimension. Smith also throws in a few clever directorial tricks that take the audience out of the film a little but give the desired effect of a gasp of tension followed by a knowing laugh. If you don’t know what I mean, wait for the moment following the figure under the sheet…
The quality of the picture is about as good as you can expect from a fairly low budget production. The anamorphic picture is slightly fuzzy at times and the black levels could have been deeper, but on the whole there is a decent level of detail and there are no significant problems with grain or edge enhancement. The film comes from a 2.35:1 master and sometimes the fact that the edges have been cropped in this 16:9 picture is obvious, but these moments are few and far between.
Music plays an important part in Severance and this DVD presents the audio track very well. The opening scene is a prime example of how the director uses light-hearted music to change the tone from horror to comedy and there are many moments throughout the film where the soundtrack deliberately increases in volume to heighten the tension. The intended changes are well represented in a track that has clear dialogue, music and directional effects.
The commentary track with the cast and crew is the undoubted gem in the rough here. I could list all of the people who throw in their two pence but all you really need to know is that Danny Dyer and Christopher Smith are very funny when they get together and provide a track that is almost as entertaining as the film itself. Dyer, Smith and the rest of the team pick out their favourite moments, share many anecdotes and spend a lot of time winding each other up.
I always find myself drawn to deleted scenes on a DVD, especially when they have optional commentary from the director, but they are invariably uninteresting and the reasons for their exclusion is obvious. The eight deleted scenes on offer here are no different, with the exception of one extended scene, which Smith says was cut down under guidance from the financiers of the movie, indicating that he may not have had as much creative control as he would have liked.
Two animatics are included, showing the opening scene in storyboards and an alternative ending which is helpful to visualise the filmmakers’ vision that was probably left out for budgetary reasons, but would have ended the movie with a laugh on a bigger scale. The UK theatrical trailer is also included, which focuses on Danny Dyer’s character and his voiceover will make the film feel familiar to fans of his biggest British films, The Football Factory and The Business.
The rest of the disc is made up of a mixed bag of featurettes. The pick of the bunch is the ‘Making of’, which clocks in at over half an hour and covers the essential ground of how the film was made, how the story was developed and how the actors came on board. As expected, this featurette is made up of behind the scenes footage and interviews and it shows how well everyone in the cast and crew got on with each other. The remaining featurettes are very short and lightly touch on subjects like the complications of filming on a coach, problems when special effects don’t work and some apparent difficulties between the writer and the director in agreeing on the final screenplay.
‘Being Danny Dyer’ is one for the completists only, which is essentially five minutes of Danny messing around on set, swearing at the camera and whipping out his (thankfully blurred) manhood. The outtakes are short but unfortunately not sweet and are an unnecessary inclusion. A fake interview with the characters Olga and Nadia is also included as an Easter egg, but isn’t really an essential find.
Severance was one of the best surprises of the late-summer releases in the UK last year and it’s good to see it get a decent treatment on DVD. While the commentary and making of featurette are essential inclusions, the rest of the extras can be avoided but it’s still enough for me to recommend picking up this release, especially for those of you outside the UK who haven’t been lucky enough to catch it at the cinema.
Review by Scott McKenzie
Suitable only for persons of 15 years and over
Release Date: 8th January 2006
Disc Type: Single side, dual layer
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English
Extras: Audio Commentary With Cast & Crew, Deleted Scenes With Audio Commentary, The Making Of Severance, 'Not So Special Effects' Featurette, 'The Genesis Of Severance' Featurette, 'The Coach' Featurette, Outtakes, Animatics, Palisade Corporate Video, Alternative Ending Storyboard, Theatrical Trailer, Easter Egg Interview
Easter Egg: No
Director: Christopher Smith
Cast: Danny Dyer, Laura Harris, Toby Stephens, Andy Nyman, Tim McInnerny, Claudie Blakley, Babou Ceesay
Genre: Comedy and Horror
Length: 91 minutes
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