A Corporate Comedy Horror Retreat: ‘Severance’ (2006)


Many horror films take place in the woods. What makes Christopher Smith’s “Severance” unique? It seamlessly blends comedy and horror together!

How it Works, and Why

To attract attention of horror fans, Severance instantly promises bloodshed. Running women fall into a deep pit. A man is caught in a rope snare, and dangles in mid-air. Soon a masked man approaches him, takes out a knife and guts him like a fish. It’s all perfectly in line with Friday the 13th, although this is not Jason.

Instead, as we quickly learn, it’s about a military weapons company, Palisade Defence, on a corporate team-building retreat in the woods of Hungary. Obviously, something has gone wrong at the lodge, and with the company retreat (and, no, it’s not just the way Brits spell “defense”).

At its core, this isn’t just another, “You don’t want to enter the woods” kind of horror (though there is that). It’s also about the horrors of what a military weapons company creates, which are seldom discussed directly by Western media. Incredibly, though, it doesn’t have the heavy preaching that might come from a politicized movie. It basically lets the weapons do the talking.

The Characters

The corporate team is presented as hapless yet likable, and perhaps not as bright as they should be, for being as successful as they are. For example, the lodge’s invaders speak in Russian, and no one in Palisade speaks the language.

The impression given: If you’re going to sell weapons that may be used

Steve and his new buddy. (Severance)

to destroy foreigners (in this case, Russians), shouldn’t you feel obligated to speak their language? It seems, at least to me, like the least one could do. However, none among Palisade are very worldly. At best, they’ll know a factoid or two, but even those seem easily disputable.

In my view, this was a smart twist, and not everyone will pick up on it. In that sense, there’s a bit of a “wink” to those who dislike warfare, who’ve been longing for a horror that critiques war profiteers. At the same time, Palisade employees aren’t depicted as outright villains, but as people who don’t quite grasp what they are up to, or what is catching up to them.

Campfire Tales with a Twist

Another great thing about Severance? It employs the standard practice of people sitting around a fire, telling scary stories. However, to make things special, the stories all involve the very lodge they’re in. For example, Harris (Toby Stephens) tells everyone that the lodge used to be a mental asylum, and that it was overtaken by the inmates. However, as an added twist, he claims that Palisade brand nerve gas was used to wipe out the crazies.

Doubt they cover this in boardroom meetings. (Severance)

Not to be outdone, Jill (Claudie Blakley) says the lodge was used as a “re-education center” for Russian war criminals — thus explaining various Russian things found in the buildings around them. In other words, the horror all ties together with Palisade. Of course, the horror isn’t only a story for long.

The Humor

Much of the humor in Severance comes from Steve (Danny Dyer), the jokester, and Gordon (Andy Nyman), who is basically a nimcompoop. I have a feeling most people will appreciate Steve in particular, for his basic “everyman” type of personality. There are also glimpses into groan-inducing corporate concepts, such as the basic premise of bonding by being paintball warriors (also lampooned in Friday the 13th Part VI: Jason Lives).

Severance walks the fine line between either being too comedic or too serious. It’s not a balance easy to manage, yet it seems to be accomplished here. While it’s neither the scariest nor the funniest movie, it’s definitely worth a watch.

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Seen Severance? Think the work-place comedy is awesome? Let your crazy co-workers know you think in the comment section below.