- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 31, 2007

By the end of British director Christopher Smith’s new horror comedy “Severance,” you’ll be impatient to see what he’s got planned for an encore.

It’s not because “Severance” is so good — no, the director needs a little more seasoning. It’s more that Mr. Smith is on to something.

Set in an unnamed wooded area in Hungary, “Severance” swats down both the military and corporations with one red-stained hand. Employees from the fictional company Palisade Defense, a British arms manufacturer, travel to Eastern Europe to do some corporate bonding. You know, play paintball, eat meals side by side and pretend to like your detestable boss and the office suck-up.

The plan quickly disintegrates. The bus taking them to their lodging hits a roadblock, and the lodge itself is a dump with a horrible past.

That’s nothing compared with what follows. A group of locals, peeved at how Palisade’s weapons impact their country, start picking off the workers in grisly fashion.

We’re not talking “Hostel” torture methods, but at times the bloodletting comes too close to that gratuitous gore.

All the while, Mr. Smith’s gaggle of characters, including the lively stoner Steve (Danny Dyer) and the resourceful Maggie (Laura Harris, “24”), bicker as they battle to stay alive.

“Severance’s” targets — unctuous bosses and tunnel-visioned executives — could hardly be safer, but the film takes aim with considerable finesse.

The horror elements prove nearly as electric, even though the killers lack a distinct personality.

Mr. Smith takes some creative risks within the story, engaging in clever flash-forward moments and storytelling asides that bespeak a budding confidence. His sly choice of music during a few dramatic sequences is equally astute.

“Severance” will be glibly compared to “Shaun of the Dead,” for both the filmmaker’s British heritage and the film’s tongue-in-bloody cheek take on the horror format. But while “Shaun” creators Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright instantly perfected the formula with “Shaun,” Mr. Smith may need another film or two to reach that level.

For now, “Severance” is smarter than your average slasher film and funnier than many mainstream comedies.

Not bad for a work in progress.

**1/2

TITLE: “Severance”

RATING: R (Nudity, gore, disturbing imagery, drug use and adult language)

CREDITS: Directed by Christopher Smith. Written by Mr. Smith and James Moran.

RUNNING TIME: 96 minutes

WEB SITE: www.severancefilm.com

MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS

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