Escalating blend of black humor and grisly goings-on in the wilds of Hungary, "Creep" fully delivers in its latter half, and drew whoops and gasps during packed screenings at South Korea's PiFan fantasy fest. With a fair wind, some juicy theatrical action looks to be in the cards for this Aug. 25 release in Blighty. U.S. distrib Magnolia has set no opening date as yet.

After the blah Franka Potente starrer, “Creep,” British helmer Christopher Smith more than comes up with the goods in slasher pic “Severance,” his sophomore trip to the genre well. Escalating blend of black humor and grisly goings-on in the wilds of Hungary fully delivers in its latter half, and drew whoops and gasps during packed screenings at South Korea’s PiFan fantasy fest. With a fair wind, some juicy theatrical action — followed by robust ancillary — looks to be in the cards for this Aug. 25 release in Blighty. U.S. distrib Magnolia has set no opening date as yet.

With a whammo opening that only becomes clear near the end of the movie, pic follows the European sales team of multinational arms supplier Palisade Defence, sent on a team-building weekend in Central Europe. Stranded when the road is blocked by a fallen tree, and then abandoned by their Hungarian driver, the team, led by stiff-upper-lip Richard (Tim McInnerny), has to leg it through the forest to find the luxury lodge of Palisade’s Yank exec, George (David Gilliam).

Dysfunctional, raggedy bunch includes womanizing, Cockney pothead Steve (Danny Dyer), hunky yuppie Harris (Toby Stephens), geeky Gordon (Andy Nyman), Richard’s assistant, Billy (Babou Ceesay), Brit brunette Jill (Claudie Blakley) and Canuck blonde Maggie (Laura Harris). What they find is not a swanky lodge but a rundown building with dusty files on Serbian lowlifes in the basement.

Onscreen chemistry and humorous exchanges among the group take a while to click, and direction in the opening reels is uneven. But the pic’s off-kilter approach starts to cohere in a section where Harris, Jill and then Steve spin wild stories about what the old lodge used to be — all visualized as brief movies-within-the-movie.

The film starts ratcheting up the scares from the halfway point as Jill gets up during the night for a drink of water. Nicely modulated sequence, full of false alarms prior to the actual surprise, sets the style for helmer Smith’s approach to his subsequent setpieces.

Casual way in which special effects are thrown at the viewer pays dividends as the story progresses. As the violence mounts, film’s comic shock value comes as much from the way in which no cast member is spared as from what’s actually shown onscreen. In that respect, “Severance” is a long way from formula slasher fare.

One gag in particular, involving the gung-ho George and a rocket launcher, is a guaranteed roof-raiser for its sheer audaciousness and political cheekiness.

Dyer (“Human Traffic,” “The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael”) and Harris slowly dominate the goings-on, but it’s the increasingly outrageous action that becomes the real star of the movie.

Technical package is fine on a budget, and locations in Hungary and the U.K.’s Isle of Man are blended seamlessly. Original script’s title was “P45,” the English name for the form employees get upon job severance.

Severance

U.K. - Germany

Production

A Pathe (in U.K.)/Magnolia Pictures (in U.S.) release of a Qwerty Films, U.K. Film Council presentation, in association with Isle of Man Film, of an N1 European Film Produktions (Germany)/Dan Films (U.K.) production. (International sales: HanWay Films, London.) Produced by Jason Newmark. Executive producers, Michael Kuhn, Steve Christian, Malcolm Ritchie, Jill Tandy. Co-producer, Alexandra Arlango. Directed by Christopher Smith. Screenplay, James Moran, Smith; story, Moran.

Crew

Camera (color), Ed Wild; editor, Stuart Gazzard; music, Christian Henson; production designer, John Frankish; art director, Lucinda Thomson; costume designer, Stephen Noble; sound (Dolby Digital), Peter Baldock; visual effects supervisors, Phil Attfield, Simon Frame; special make-up effects, Millennium F/X; assistant director, Melanie Dicks, Matt Baker; casting, William Davies, Gail Stevens. Reviewed at PiFan festival, Bucheon, South Korea, July 16, 2006. (Also in Locarno Film Festival, Piazza Grande.) Running time: 95 MIN.

With

Danny Dyer, Laura Harris, Tim McInnerny, Toby Stephens, Claudie Blakley, Andy Nyman, Babou Ceesay, David Gilliam, Matthew Baker, Juli Drajko, Kaite Johns.
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