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By Pete Vonder Haar | March 17, 2007

There’s nothing like a corporate retreat: the unbearable team-building exercises, embarrassing bouts of drunkenness, and – of course – ill-advised trysts with your co-workers.

And that’s not even counting the crazed killers out to wreak horrible vengeance.

Then again, you probably didn’t have to deal with that last one at your most recent company paintball outing. The folks of the European sales division of Palisade Defence aren’t quite as lucky, however. As a reward for all their hard work in arming the globe, their CEO has organized a weekend at a luxury retreat somewhere in Eastern Europe (most likely Hungary). En route, their bus comes upon a tree blocking the road. When the local driver refuses to take a nearby short cut through the woods, the Palisade team embarks for the lodge on foot. What they find is something else entirely, and not exactly up to Fodor’s standards.

Anyone who’s ever done time in a cubicle farm will sympathize on some level with the plight of the Palisade folks, most of which are fairly recognizable workplace archetypes (the alpha male salesguy, the assistant who actually runs things). This isn’t to say you won’t snicker in ill-concealed glee when the office toady gets his leg amputated in a bear trap, or how the ineffectual manager takes a page from “Aliens’” Lt. Gorman in eliminating enemy forces.

What’s more refreshing about “Severance” is how the movie’s humor offsets the violence, and even that is pretty restrained (at least by modern standards). Director Christopher Smith is also a master of the misdirect, and is quite adept at coming at you from a direction you weren’t expecting. Finally, a couple of gags – one involving a flamethrower and one soon-to-be classic involving a rocket launcher – are cruel joys to behold.

“Severance” is how “Office Space” would’ve turned out had Michael Bolton and Samir not been able to take their frustrations out on the office printer. As it is, Smith’s first feature since 2004’s “Creep” is a pleasant take on interoffice politics and a nice twist on the old “stalked in the woods by psychos” plot.

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