It’s not the fact that the prestigious Telluride Film Festival selected a slasher pic as among its offerings that bothers me, but rather that they found one so bloody mediocre. From all the buzz surrounding the festival, I expected a wild, even revolutionary, ride; a sharp tongue-in-cheek romp that took parody to new, dizzying heights of fun and sophistication. And when “hilarious” and “hysterical” are thrown about with abandon, it’s only natural to rub your hands together and get ready for an unparalleled experience. But I should have known. If the Telluride faithful can be counted on for anything, it is their knack for blowing everything out of proportion; for being so ready to piss their pants with maniacal applause that they’d be more than willing to bow before an empty screen so long as it came with a hefty price tag. After all, if those in charge of this Labor Day party saw fit to dirty its schedule with a film usually suited for the sticky floors and faded seats of a suburban cineplex, it must be just shy of greatness, right?
Instead, Severance is a dry, unnecessary effort that acts as if the horror renaissance of the past decade had never occurred. It’s self-aware and winking like a mental patient with a tic, but it shoves one obligatory scene after another down our throats with such force that it feels more like self-importance. The bus load of employees from Palisade Defense industries is the tried-and-true mix of stereotypes and stock figures that we’ve come to expect, so why does the screenplay think it’s funny to play it out yet again? Even the Eastern European location was previously mined in Hostel, which managed to be one of the few of its genre to say something new while having fun with our expectations. Here, corporate drones are slaughtered in turn by a group of renegade, Soviet-era assassins who resent Palisade’s intrusion into the region. This gives the film a few welcome jabs at the defense industry (including a strikingly true-to-life marketing video shown aboard the bus), but it fails to exploit that ripe subject for all it’s worth.
Worst of all, this shit just wasn’t funny, and when a big-titted prostitute with an open shirt and a big gun to match isn’t enough the close the deal, we know we’re in rare territory. So perhaps it was the screening audience that sealed the film’s fate; those knowing young minds, so hip and insightful, who rolled in the aisles because, well, it’s so obviously a joke, right? “Isn’t it amazing how they redefine the genre and undermine the very essence of horror?” I can hear them now, kvetching over coffee and low fat pastries, how “cool” it all was, and how we can laugh at brutality and death because our own age, post-9/11, has eradicated any serious contemplation of mortality not tinged with irony. Bullshit, and a curse upon your $300 sandals. Any and all of the unconscionable praise for Severance assumes that the viewer attends the cinema only in a festival context, and that self-parody is, in and of itself, a virtue, even when it is as smug as the subject it is attempting to subvert.