Travis: Welcome back to Vagrant Fox everybody. This week Todd and I watched Severance, a British horror/comedy that set out to discover whether Hungarian hillbillies are as terrifying as West Virginian hillbillies.
Todd: Being from West Virginia I’m gonna say West Virginia Hillbillies are less scary, but that’s mostly because I can at least understand what they’re saying.
The movie opens with a couple of hookers and an old guy running through the woods, that appeared to be filled with boobie traps.
Travis: The hookers fall into a trap and begin roping their clothes together (getting increasingly naked) to hopefully escape from the pit. While the old guy gets caught in a snare and we see the killer approaching him while he hangs helplessly before being gutted.
I think it was Kim that offered that his blood looked a lot like chocolate syrup. Which is testament to bad lighting more than bad FX.
This is one of my favorite storytelling devices, the flash-forward. It appeals to the lazy writer in me to say “Look, there will be action later”.
Now lets wind it back to our boring character introduction scene.
Todd: Our boring character introduction scene takes place on a bus, where a group of employees for a defense company are heading to a lodge for a weekend retreat.
We have the “Insufferable Prick”, the “Jock”, the “Cheerleader”, the “Nerdy Girl”, the “Suck Up”, the “Stoner” and the “Token” black guy. Stoner guy is clearly our hero, since he’s getting all the best lines and the most screen time. He’s also hitting on the Cheerleader, and she’s not straight up rebuffing him, so there’s some kind of chemistry there.
I love that they’re watching a company video on the bus and someone’s complaining that they hired all blonde, white actors and one guy says, “It’s like a Hitler youth recruiting video.” Then one black guy shows up in the video and he’s got a gun. Brilliant.
Travis: What I loved was that they managed to embody these fictional archetypes while not playing them like the archetypes. The Stoner played his drug addled confusion but was more and more capable as he came down from the early movie high. And while the Token Black Guy dies (spoiler!) he has the most noble death, if such as thing can be said.
Todd: I liked that the Cheerleader was actually an American girl, and I knew I knew her from somewhere. She was in a TV series called Women’s Murder Club with Angie Harmon, based on a James Patterson Novel, that my wife used to watch.
The driver of the bus, by the way, speaks no English. So when they come to a spot in the road where a tree has fallen down and Insufferable tries to get the guy to take an alternate route, the bus driver refuses, because horrible things happen in these woods, folks.
Travis: And apparently have for some time as the history of this region is according to some shoddy exposition either 60 or 8 years in the making.
Since the group is intent on making it to the lodge, and by group I mean Insufferable and Suck-up, they all debark and set off on foot while the bus turns around and flees.
Only to turn around at some indeterminate point in the future, travel up the same road as the group and stop facing back the way it would have come from as that is how it is found later in the film.
I am getting ahead of myself but this was one of the few wtf-bullshit moments I had to call out.
But that is ok, as this leads us to the bear.
Todd: The bear was the moment that I knew this movie was going to be awesome. They’re lost in the woods, looking at a map. Someone, probably the stoner, says he thinks he heard a bear.
Insufferable says “There are no bears in Hungary. Unless we’ve crossed the border into Romania, in which case there ARE bears. If we’re in Serbia, then…I don’t know.”
And the Jock says, “That’s really interesting. Is there some sort of passport control for bears?”
Then they all look around a bit and wander off down the trail. And then the camera focuses in about 20 yards behind them, and there’s a bear sitting there, watching them, that proceeds to wander away into the woods.
That’s just great film making.
Travis: That was a little thing that I loved but a little thing that I hated was the signs written in presumably Hungarian. The danger keep out stuff which we were given helpful subtitles. I’m not sure this added anything; the audience already has foreknowledge, it isn’t necessary to give us a blatant reminder.
The decrepit fence and sign do make some sense with future revelations, but the warning close-up and subtitles took us out of the scene for a brief moment.
Todd: The group continues on down the path, Stoner is hallucinating and Cheerleader has to help him walk. They come to a worn out looking cabin and immediately everybody BUT the insufferable prick boss thinks they’re at the wrong cabin.
And despite the fact that they have a brochure with a picture of the cabin that looks nothing like this, and that they ALL agree (except the one guy) that they’re at the wrong place they decide to stay.
Travis: To be clear on Stoner. He started off the movie smoking a blunt in the bathroom on the bus, prompting a Hungarian rant from the bus driver, followed by an entire bag of mushrooms…. which he did kindly offer to share with the Cheerleader. So at least he wants to share the love, and not just his bone, with the hot blonde.
During the entire trip through the woods he was tripping balls in interesting ways, and when he saw a dude in the woods with a big ass knife, nobody believed him. Not even himself.
Todd: It is a much more effective version of showing you these guys are in a dangerous situation than with a subtitled sign that says “Danger” or whatever.
So the Jock and Suck-up have to go out and look for a generator because even though Insufferable is sure that they’re in the right place, there’s no one there to greet them (they were supposed to be meeting people) the place is a wreck (they’re supposed to be at a luxurious condo) and there’s no power (there should be power, right?)
What the jock finds instead is a bunch of medical records. I’m going to repeat that: What the jock finds instead is a bunch of MEDICAL RECORDS.
Travis: Written in Hungarian, so nobody can figure out from the records what is going on.
So the woods have been creepy, and the lodge is super creepy and they really tried to play that with everyone splitting up (Never split up) to check out the dark basements they play some classy spooks like doors slamming behind them while leaving out stupid ones like flashlights suddenly not working.
While this is going on the stoner continues to trip and this is a great part because he keeps seeing versions of himself and he seems to be having a sort of conversation with looks and head nods. We’ve seen so many stoners in slasher films and in the first 30 minutes he has put them all to shame already.
Todd: He really does. He’s the Leonardo DiCaprio of stoner actors. My only concern at this point in the film is that it’s entirely clear they’re in the wrong cabin, fine, that’s a conceit the movie needs to make so that everything after happens like it does.
But nobody went looking for them? The bus never showed up but there’s presumably (and we’ll find out later there is) somebody waiting for them to show up at the REAL cabin.
But what’s happening now is: Insufferable has a vivid nightmare about the cheerleader inviting her into her bedroom to have sex with her, only it turns out it’s the jock with a wig on and some stabbing commences, and then he wakes up to find everyone downstairs enjoying a tasty pie.
Travis: He loves the Cheerleader and hates the Jock. The dream is nice because it give is another, albeit implausible, shock without any consequence.
More importantly it shows the prick is weak-willed, gullible, cowardly and irrational all in a 2 minute dream sequence. The Jock and Token would kill for this level of character building.
Todd: We spend a lot of time with him, and yeah, he’s a total douche the entire time.
Turns out the pie they’re eating is one that the Suckup “found” and decided to put in the oven. He admits this when the stoner finds a tooth in his bit of pie.
Travis: Cheerleader didn’t eat the pie. Much like cheerleaders in real life, we never actually see this one eat anything the entire movie. I realize she is in mortal peril from the Hungarian hillbillies, but we should look to stage an intervention once that all blows over.
Todd: She needs a sandwich.
At this point the group starts talking about the area, which apparently has some rich and varied history. We get three versions of the tale of this lodge:
One, during World War II Palisades dropped nerve gas on this place that was a POW camp, killing everyone and covering it up.
Two, About 8 years ago this was a mental asylum for psychotic patients and Palisades tested some nerve gas killing everyone and covering it up.
Three, An awesome version from the stoner that includes lesbian nurses and porn.
Everybody heads off to bed, and we stick with Nerdy Girl, who has a giant spider crawling on her back that she doesn’t notice. She does the cool, unexpected thing and sees it and instead of freaking out she picks it up and goes to set it outside, poor little thing.
That’s when she notices someone outside her window in a tree watching her.
Travis: When Stoner was telling his tale I thought it was a brilliant combination of The Ward meets Castle Anthrax.
I have issue though with the fact that the two tales have a 60 year separation, yet both are told as relevant to their company Palisade. Even the recent story was at a minimum 8 years old, so when we finally meet the reclusive hillbillies later they don’t make much sense.
Todd: After a quick search outside the group discovers there are a bunch of wooden planks leading from tree to tree outside, and finally some people are starting to get creeped out.
Insufferable tells them to sleep on it and if they still want to leave in the morning he’ll agree. Cut to, the next morning when everyone still wants to leave.
He threatens them with their jobs (cause that’s just the kind of guy he is) but agrees to let Nerdy Girl and Jock go looking for a way out or the “real” cabin or whatever, but everybody else has to stay behind and play paintball, as originally planned.
Travis: At this point I began to marvel at their economy packing skills. They had multiple days worth of clothing and a full set of paint ball gear yet none of them had more than one piece of luggage.
Thinking of the teams here, it was Token and Stoner vs Insufferable and Cheerleader with Suck Up acting as the ref.
There is a quick sequence where a target dashes from cover to cover and Token lands some hits on target but when they run into Insufferable/Cheerleader none of them claim to be hit.
Insufferable brings down Token, and Stoner is painted by Cheerleader who hides in wait near the flag.
I felt it was important to our audience to let them know how the game went down.
We also get a little bit of characterization on Token as he asks Stoner advice on women, or birdies as the english call them. This conversation leads to the revelation that Token really has a crush on Cheerleader, the same as everyone else. Sorry Nerdy, guys seem to all go for blondes.
That said Token seems like a sweet guy, ladies you would be lucky to have him.
Todd: I like that Stoner’s response on how to get girls is basically “Buy them a Bacardi Breezer and they’ll ride you like Sea Biscuit.” See, girls aren’t complicated.
The game ends in some kind of bizarre argument about who shot who, since apparently somebody shot the killer that’s been wandering around, and then Suck Up turns to walk off through a field and immediately gets his leg caught in a bear trap! The field is full of bear traps!
And he loses his leg. Just cuts it right off at the knee.
Not necessarily right off. Token and Stoner struggle to open the jaws and keep failing. So they get it open some, and then snap closed again over and over effectively chewing the leg off.
Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.
So while this was going on, Jock and Nerdy have been hiking back down the road from which they came. I found this odd for 2 reasons. First off it was stated earlier in the film that if they continued along the dirt road which lead them to the fake lodge they would eventually reach the real lodge. But mostly having come from that direction at the start of the film they knew for a fact that there was exactly fuckall for a good 30 miles in that direction.
fortunately, they find the bus they rode in on.
I stand corrected.
Todd: The bus that is inexplicably facing the wrong direction.
And the bus driver who has been brutally murdered. They do the only sensible thing, which is to drive the bus back to the fake lodge to pick everyone up.
Actually, maybe that is the sensible thing.
Then Stoner takes Suck Up’s leg and puts it in the bus refrigerator and they try to make their glorious escape.
Travis: When Stoner was stuffing the leg in the mini-fridge I was thinking how unfortunate it would be if he broke some toes or the ankle while forcing it in there.
Ok, we’re winding it back here. Why the hell was the bus there? It never went down the dirt road, it in fact immediately turned around and drove away. Did the hillbillies run it down, hijack it, drive it back, pull the bus driver out and murder him on the side of the road leaving a perfectly workable bus to be found?
Yes, that appears to be exactly what happened.
Todd: Again, it’s odd. I mean, even if it happened exactly as you described, why did they just leave it sitting there? With the keys in it, apparently?
So everybody gets on the bus, some spikes get thrown into the street by a mysterious hillbilly, and the bus wrecks. Everyone gets severely injured.
We should also point out that up until this point it had appeared that there was only one killer, which you described as being “very well-organized”. This is where we started getting to the “maybe there’s more than one of them” stage.
Travis: Very well-organized for a hungarian hillbilly to be exact.
The bus is one of those movie things where the plan relies on an extremely specific set of circumstances. In fact, their entire plan hinged on the company buying a luxury lodge in these Hungarian backwoods.
I want to see the prequel where they inception that plan into the company presidents dreams.
Todd: That would be awesome. Speaking of the company, this is the point where we get a great callback. While Jock and Nerdy Girl were walking down the path they were discussing people being beheaded, and Jock told her that the head can still hear and see things for a minute after decapitation.
Jock, of course, gets beheaded. As his head rolls along the ground and he looks over and sees his body falling, headless, to the ground, he gets this great smirk on his face like, “I knew that was right!”
Travis: He is the only one that managed to call his own death. I’ll give him extra credit for that one.
Nerdy Girl had a head wound in the crash and goes wandering off. She stops to wave at jock on the ground while she is in her stunned state.
This sets the others up to get out of the bus and find one party member dead and another missing. I was wondering if they was going to be a debate on whether the crash decapitated jock or the mysterious assailant did. But they did the sensible thing, declared to hell with this mess and hightailed it back to the lodge mystery unsolved.
If I’m ever in a slasher flick, I want to be trapped with the British as they seem way smarter than American victims.
Todd: They do. I think it’s that British wit I keep hearing about. Though to be fair, at this point, the unofficial leader of the group is the American girl.
They decide to board themselves up in the lodge and wait til morning. Cause, I guess, hillbillies sleep all day, even though they’re being attacked during the daylight while they decide this. I guess they just figure they’ll be able to see farther. Fair enough.
Poor Nerdy Girl, though, gets tied to a tree and lit on fire while the crazy hillbilly tells her (in Hungarian) that she’s a witch.
Travis: The importance of Nerdy Girl’s death is it is the first time we meet one of the hillbillies. And until a few scenes later, we are to believe that this is the only one stalking our heroes.
Also he doesn’t just light her on fire, he douses her with kerosene and torches her with a flame thrower. Which on one hand seems excessive and on the other I couldn’t help feel concern about the possibility of starting a forest fire.
Remember crazy Hungarian hillbilly pyro, only you can prevent forest fires.
Todd: We have a short bit of down time while Stoner and Cheerleader get to know each other a little, and Token gets some rest inside the lodge. Only, while Stoner and Cheerleader are chatting, we see in the background a crazy hillbilly snatch up the one-legged lapdog and drag him off.
Once they figure out he’s gone they go through a crazy tour of the lodge, and find a basement, where there’s screaming coming from behind a closed door. Cheerleader, Stoner, Token, and Insufferable all head down to see what’s going on.
The crazy hillbilly is carving up the one-legged lapdog who’s tied to a chair of some kind.
Travis: We got to include another fine Stoner moment ahead of this. Since they have no painkillers, Stoner gives suck-up some ecstasy. Which in a short time causes him to get extremely mellow and courageous enough to admit that he loves absolutely everyone at the lodge.
Not wanting to listen to the ecstasy amputee Token and Insufferable to wander off while Cheerleader and Stoner went to bond.
It was during the bonding that a hillbilly came out of the basement, as they had boarded up all of the exits.
So the two options to infer was, either there is a secret passage, or there is more than one hillbilly!
Todd: So it turns out that the hillbilly is carving the Palisades logo into the Suck Up, because the hillbillies hate Palisades.
Which leads me to what we said before, either this was just a ridiculous coincidence, or the hillbillies get full credit for planning their revenge and figuring out where Palisades held its’ executive retreats.
And as you pointed out, the black guy does get an extremely noble death here, protecting the cheerleader from the crazed carver.
Travis: When the Carver notices they are at the door of his room he turns with shotgun in hand and fires a shot. I remember you commenting about “How did they get out of that?”
Insufferable and Stoner make it up the stairs while Token and Cheerleader duck into a cell to hide. At this point cheerleader notices that Token has a blast hole in his chest. She begins to panic and Token keeps her quiet while slowly expiring.
So yeah, they didn’t get out of it… and your sense of hillbilly vengeance was satisfied.
So Stoner and Cheerleader go running around the house, chased by the hillbilly as Insufferable has disappeared.
Finally they get Carver stuck in the floor, because it broke and he fell halfway through, and Cheerleader unloads the shotgun into his head, with the great quote: “I’d hate to be accused of not killing him when I had the chance.”
These are definitely people to get stuck in a horror movie with.
Travis: Cheerleader and Carver falling through is a call back as every character that had gone upstairs had stumbled on that rotted floorboard.
Stoner was hiding in a closet and was content to stay there until he noticed that Cheerleader had come upstairs and was about to run into Carver. Carver chased her and she was the one that fell through first, and it looked like he would shoot her from above when Stoner hit Carver from behind knocking him in the hole where he then also busted through the first level floor where he was stuck for Cheerleader to drop a kill on.
Sure he hit a guy in the back, but he hit a guy which is exactly more one more than the stoners from other films have hit.
Todd: Yeah, these people are survivors.
So they head outside, where they find out that not only is there more than one hillbilly, there are like a dozen hillbillies. So we’re off on a merry chase through the woods.
At this point they come upon Insufferable, who has stepped on a landmine and can’t move. Another callback as two characters were discussing landmines earlier. In fact it may have been Jock and Nerdy Girl.
They try to get him to come with them, but he attempts to be noble and wait for the hillbillies to come so he can blow them up, only he muffs that up a bit.
Travis: It was insufferable and he was boasting how awesome that particular mine was.
More on Cheerleader and Stoner coming face to face with the hillbilly army. They were as surprised to see our heroes as we were to see them. Only one had the wits to react and was immediately blasted by Cheerleader. I can see why everyone is in love with her.
She then tells them not to move while her and Stoner start to run off mentioning under her breath to Stoner that they are out of ammo.
And the chase is on!
Todd: After our heroes pass Insufferable the hillbillies show up, laugh at him and continue to give chase. He knows he’s going to die so he waits until the last two hillbillies are going by and takes his foot off the mine, blowing them to kingdom come.
Stoner and Cheerleader show up at the REAL cabin to find their boss partying with two Balkan hookers. This is another callback because Stoner had actually been the one ordering the hookers in the bus at the beginning of the movie.
The Boss has a bunch of Palisades weapons with him, including a rocket launcher, and well…I’ll let you take that one.
Travis: It is apparently a ground-to-air missile as he runs out, fires it at the chasing hillbillies only to have it veer up into the sky and take out a passing airliner.
It’s a “Well that just happened” moment that works wonders.
Then the boss looks momentarily crestfallen before he turns and runs. Everyone else follows suit.
And now we’ve come full circle.
Todd: And we’re back to the beginning of the movie where the hookers fall in a hole and the Boss gets strung up and gutted.
And now Stoner and Cheerleader have to deal with the hillbillies in a frighteningly funny bit of hand-to-hand combat, including Stoner shoving a knife in one of the hillbilly’s, um, buttocks.
Travis: While the cheerleader also gets caught in the snare trap and is dangling helplessly. Our would be killer, having never read our review of Drive Angry, decides it raping time.
There is some punching, some biting, and eventually our would be rapist learns you never bring a cock to a rock fight.
Meanwhile in the stoner knife fight….
Todd: One of the best lines of the movie as the hillbilly with the knife (still) in his butt comes towards Stoner, Stoner says, “This is going to hurt. A lot.” And kicks him backwards so that he falls onto it.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that my favorite part of the Cheerleader rock fight was that she tried to pick up a giant rock, couldn’t lift it, grabbed a smaller rock, and dropped it on his head. For some reason that whole sequence killed me.
Travis: And him.
Stoner having taken a throwing dagger to the shoulder lays down by a tree to consider where his life has gone wrong, or perhaps just nap a bit. And is awakened by the sound of something being throw at him….
It’s the strippers in the pit he is pleased to find, now down to their panties having used the rest of their clothes to make a rope.
The scene cuts back to the cheerleader and we are left to assume stoner rescues the strippers, or perhaps passes out from blood loss.
Todd: It’s great because the last time we saw the strippers (at the beginning of the movie) they were stripping down to make a rope, and throwing it at the edge of the pit, and just not getting it caught on anything.
So yet another great foreshadow/callback happens as Stoner is sitting there, slowly losing the will to continue, when a pair of pants with a stick tied around it starts repeatedly slapping the ground next to him.
Cheerleader makes her way to…a small town? A train station? It’s hard to say, really. It’s like a small town with a train station.
Travis: She makes it to the war crimes prison they talked about when they were telling horrible stories about the area, you know the prison that was nerve gassed by Palisade which is why the hillbillies hate that company and have spent 8 years in these woods waiting for a random division of Palisade to buy a luxury resort lodge in these hills.
Worst plan ever.
Wait… the werewolf USO show is still the worst plan ever… but this is pretty bad.
Todd: We’re going to have to explain the werewolf USO show, probably in a side window. Or maybe just a link to the old quotes page. Anyway…
I’m not sure it’s the “worst” plan ever. It’s definitely looking at the long game. So, a hillbilly shows up to run down the cheerleader at the war crimes prison, and it’s pretty tense, there’s no way she’s getting out of there.
She finds a phone and calls for help, where she is immediately put on hold. Best. Hold Music. Ever.
Lil’ Flamey (the flamethrower wielding hillbilly) shows up to get her. After she runs upstairs and then jumps down from the 2nd floor and is limping outside from the fall, and then Lil’ Flamey is all over her, just about to do her in with his flames of woman hating justice, when all of the sudden…out of nowhere…
HOOKER WITH A MACHINE GUN!
Travis: In glorious slow motion even, grindhouse-a-rific.
They wander down to the lake and hobble into a row-boat. Whores on the oar’s which is ok as I think they are still technically on the clock and they row off into the sunset with Stoner getting the last line in as he looks tenderly at Cheerleader and chances, “Foursome?”
Todd: Such an awesome ending.
Travis: After the black mark on my soul that was Dylan Dog this was a very pleasant surprise.
Todd: Indeed. It’s too bad Dylan Dog wasn’t this much fun.
It really should have been.
By the way, I wanted to include Kim’s one line review of the movie: “You didn’t pay for this movie, did you?”
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly
Todd: I think the call backs and foreshadowing were my favorite part of the movie.
From the conversation about the bears leading up to the bear watching them from the trail, the hookers showing up, the mention of land mines, the decapitation conversation and the jock getting his head cut off…it’s actaully a pretty tight script for what appears to be a B+ horror comedy.
Travis: It aimed to be a B grade horror/comedy and nailed it.
My good is how every character was an instantly recognizable archetype and yet never succumbed to the archetype they were portraying.
Todd: True. Ok, for the Bad, I’m actually having a hard time thinking of anything other than the plot hole that it was clear to EVERYONE that they were in the wrong lodge, they had no power until they found the generator, they found a pie with a tooth in it, and yet, still, they stayed.
That kept bothering me because in a vaguely “this could actually happen” sort of movie, that was the one thing that kept making me think, “No. There’s no way in hell I would have stayed. I wouldn’t have cared if my boss had threatened to fire me.”
Travis: If they had stayed more than one night i’d be with you. But in the mountains like that with night eminent it wouldn’t be unreasonable to stop and like they had planned, move on in the morning.
My bad is the lighting
I assume this was a low-budget production. They had a $100 SFX budget and spent $90 of that shooting down the airliner. All of that I can forgive but the lighting was bad in so many scenes that we often had to struggle to see. It is a big reason why when boss man has his throat cut it looked like chocolate syrup, it was too dark to look like blood.
Todd: And that being said, we have to find some ugly…
I guess we’ve both brought it up, and it’s another plot point, but the hillbillies hiding out in the middle of nowhere hoping that people from the one corporation on Earth that they hate happen to rent a lodge for an executive weekend is pretty far out there.
Travis: Exactly. The decrepit lodge is an insane asylum, the war prison is up the road, the place got nerve gassed and then used as a weapons depot as there was crates of Palisade armaments there… I don’t get it. Why were they there in the first place but mostly, why are they still there?
Todd: Why would you build an executive retreat lodge that close to all those places?
I guess final thoughts I’d say for a B horror/comedy this was incredibly good. For a “movie” movie, it was still pretty good. I’d recommend this to people. It’s the opposite of Dylan Dog. I went in with very little information and came out the other side pleased as punch.
Travis: I’m wondering now if the hillbillies didn’t build the luxury retreat lodge and then offer Palisade a price too good to turn down. That’s some Wile E. Coyote sh*t right there.
And that’s Severance, we watched it so now you don’t have to.
But you should.