Pushing the zombie movie in a direction even George Romero would envy, “Severed” ingeniously sets up a confrontation between eco-activists and loggers that turns decidedly ghoulish — and incisively political. Drawing from the art-horror pics of Larry Fessenden, Canuck helmer Carl Bessai applies a serious veneer that’s a carryover from his personal work (“Emile”) to a full-on genre display that should greatly please the hardcore crowd and arthouse denizens. Pic has entered the marketplace very much under the radar, but could be a nifty summer or fall item for an attentive distrib.
Protags and antags couldn’t be more fundamental: In one corner, a burly crew of loggers thins out a grove of old-growth trees in what looks like a northern patch of British Columbia; in the other corner, “Earth First!”-style activists, block roads and tie themselves to trees. Protag Rita (Sarah Lind) is one of the protestors, while antag Tyler (Paul Campbell) is the son of the logging company owner.
After company scientist Carter (JR Bourne) discovers strange sap emissions that look disturbingly like blood, the sap splashes all over one logger, who turns green and gets zombie-fied in short order.
Soon, the sap infects more workers, bringing the logging operation to a screeching halt and also threatening the activists.
Bessai stages extremely tense scenes with a consistently smart attitude, as when frenzied protestors are undone by their own tactics–tied to trees while roughneck ghouls approach. With devious irony, the loggers and activists who were enemies in pre-zombie times are now allies, either as zombie brethren or as humans trying to get away.
“Severed” contains several salvos directed at contempo cinema’s number one bad guy — the corporation — that are armed with even more disturbing implications than those in Romero’s magnificent zombie thriller last year, “Land of the Dead.” The ecology message has special impact because of how deftly it is woven into the narrative.
Third act plays out like a Joseph Conrad tale with a drive-in sensibility, replete with a string of moral quandaries rooted in what it is to be human.
Bessai’s actors freak out, get muddy and bloody and bring out quirky traits of the characters while the helmer and his production team, especially lenser James Liston and sound man Scott Aitken, turn the British Columbia forest into a deeply scary place that’s primordial in impact.