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The idea of "getting axed" is exploited for maximum double-entendre value in director Christopher Smith's grisly horror-comedy about a septet of employees from a British weapons manufacturer confronted by some disgruntled former clients—or something like that—during a weekend retreat in the Hungarian countryside. Decked out with references to the post-Soviet wars of the 1990s and other Taliban-era blowback, Severance is nothing if not a canny proposition: Torture porn for the Economist crowd. But unlike a spate of recent movies that have employed genre as a means of social criticism, Severance isn't a sustained work of imagination. Part of the problem is Smith and Moran's intentional vagueness about the identities of the masked henchman who spend most of the movie thinning out the cast. But Severance isn't much sharper when it comes to our supposed heroes, who call to mind a bad dinner-theater knock-off of The Office. Smith is at his best when staging macabre set pieces that look like Far Side cartoons come to life. Some take inspired comic flight. The rest crash to the ground and, like so much else in Severance, go splat. (Scott Foundas) (Edwards University, Irvine)

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