Severance (2006)

Starring: Tim McInnerny, Danny Dyer, Toby Stephens, Andy Nyman, Laura Harris, Claudie Blakley, Babou Ceesay

Directed by: Christopher Smith

Rating: 1 2 3 4 and a half

Danny Dyer as cheeky chav Steve in Severance

With Severance, up and coming Brit horror maestro Christopher Smith takes the traditional ingredients of the rural horror film (smartass city slickers take a trip to the country - in this case, that current locus terribilis of choice, Eastern Europe - and quickly come to regret it) and turns it into something really rather good.

The urbanites in question are the sales division of a multi-national weapons manufacturer, Palisade Defence, and they're undergoing that scariest of endurance feats, the team building weekend. Deposited by their terrified coach driver into the depths of a bear-ridden Hungarian forest (believe me, the bears are the least of their problem), they are left to find their own way to their 'luxury lodge' (which of course turns out to be anything but - more Evil Dead than The Great Outdoors) - and to survive the weekend.

Tim McInnerny as Richard in Severance

But unlike the usual indistinguishable pawns of 'pick 'em off' horror movies, the Palisade Defence team are a fairly well characterised bunch. The ever-marvellous Tim McInnerny plays Richard, the bumbling team leader who, with his cringeworthy efforts to remain politically correct while managing a disparate team of rebellious misfits, will be as familiar to anyone who's ever worked in an office as David Brent. Then there's sarky wiseass Harris (Toby Stephens); overgrown boyscout Gordon (Andy Nyman), the health and safety rep; sensible Jill (Claudie Blakley), the weapons designer who's trying to create a humane landmine; pretty, spiky Maggie (Laura Harris); recreational drug addict and lads mag poster boy Steve (Danny Dyer) and token black dude and all round good guy Billy (Babou Ceesay).<

And then there are the murderous nutters on the loose in the forest. Are they escaped lunatics from an Eastern block asylum (Harris's theory, narrated in a marvellous Nosferatu-style silent movie flashback) or ex-Soviet soldiers turned mental survivalists, as Jill believes. One thing's for sure, they're not the naughty Carry On nurses suggested by Steve as the team try to work out what the spider-infested, dilapidated 'lodge' was once used for.

And what exactly is the connection between these crazed killers and the self-styled 'ethical' weapons company Palisade? Is it a coincidence that they're armed with the transatlantic firm's hardware? Could this film actually be read as an allegory for the awful, bloody mess the US and British governments have wreaked by throwing themselves, unwanted and ill-prepared, into the War on Terror?

Last girl standing: Maggie (Laura Harris) delivers the goods in Severance

Refreshingly, the answer is never entirely spelled out, because who wants boring old back story and political commentary when we can have an hour of jumpy shocks and scares, blood, guts, gore and hilarious, Shaun of the Dead-style sick black comedy? (Watch out for the mantrap scene - not since the There's Somthing About Mary zipper catches skin sequence have so many people in a cinema laughed and winced at the same time.)

Sure, things do lose momentum once our team are let loose in the forest (after Severed, Blood Trails, Broken and Them I feel if I've seen enough bloodstained people running through trees for 2006, thank you), but there's a surprise in store for us at the end - and I don't just mean the outstandingly brave and jaw-droppingly un-PC collision between a rocket launcher and an airborne passenger jet. Oh, and anyone who was annoyed by Franka Potente's complete inability to finish off the monster in Creep will be delighted to learn that Christopher Smith has learnt his lesson, and last girl standing Maggie proves more than capable of seeing things through when she has the killer in her sights.

So relax folks, you can sleep safely in your beds knowing that, while the Americans are busy churning out turgid remakes and unimaginative teen scream dross, plucky Brits like Smith and Neil Marshall are keeping the flag flying for dark, quirky, sick, nasty horror movies. Postmodern without being clever about it (Billy even gets to say 'I'll be right back' and mean it), Severance is a wee gem of a horror flick, both a delightful homage to and an innovative, entertaining and intelligent addition to the genre. Loved it.

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