chris atchison/metro toronto
It's perhaps one of the most dreaded memos that can emerge from the boss' office -- the one informing staff they're being given time off to enjoy a team-building vacation together.
The thought of being stuck for a weekend with work colleagues is enough to make some people's skin crawl, but writer James Moran had something else in mind when he began writing the screenplay for the horror-comedy Severance, which he later completed with director Christopher Smith.
"(Moran) was in an underground tube and there was these yuppie-type city traders talking really loud on their cellphones, they were obnoxious and had a bottle of champagne on the tube that they snuck on," Smith recalls of Moran's inspiration for the story. "So he said, 'I'm going to go home and write a script where I kill a yuppie' and it all came from that, really."
Severance stars Canadian Laura Harris (24, CSI, Dead Like Me) as Maggie, one of the staffers of multinational arms-producing company Palisades Defence who are sent to a remote location in Eastern Europe for a fun weekend of team-building exercises.
But when a group of crazed killers begin targeting the group -- which includes actors Toby Stephens (Die Another Day) and Danny Dyer (The Business) -- their internal bickering turns to a struggle for survival as the workers are slowly picked off by the maniacal hunters.
For the Surrey, B.C.-raised Harris, who began acting in her early teens and admits to not having any real office experience to relate to in the role, the easiest comparison between the forced corporate camaraderie of a team-building weekend is with the awkward first days on a new film or television shoot.
"I guess the only thing I can say is the same thing happens on set. It's a group of people coming together and you need to get along to serve a common purpose," Harris says.
Severance follows in the footsteps of the cult hit Shaun Of The Dead, blending comedy and horror, but for Smith, the exercise in cinematic fusion came with one key rule -- the film would never stray into tongue-in-cheek territory.
"I wanted to have a scene where someone dies and you actually care about them and feel sorry for them. The (goal) we had is The Office meets Deliverance, to try to create that kind of thing.
"The mandate we stuck by was that everybody had to play it straight," Smith (Creep, The Day Granddad Went Blind) continues. "We cast it so that they were very close physically to the characters they were playing and what you expect them to be."
- Severance opens in theatres today.