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Severed: Forest Of The Dead (2005)
Director: Carl Bessai

review by Octavio Ramos Jr

There seems to be a resurgence of the zombie flick since the release of 28 Days Later, with films like the Dawn Of The Dead remake, Romero's Land Of The Dead, and even the Resident Evil movies all carving out a slice of the horror niche. Thing is, zombie movies are the like pornography - for every good movie that's made, there are countless pieces of drivel, such as the abysmal House Of The Dead, Day Of The Dead 2, and Return Of The Living Dead 4: Necropolis. So when I spotted Severed on the video shelf, I was a bit apprehensive about getting it. It also did not help that there was a tagline that read as follows: "From the producers of Slither, House Of The Dead, and White Noise. I had screened House Of The Dead and had found it terrible indeed. Still, I love zombie movies, so I took a chance.

I'm relieved to say that this film, subtitled Forest Of The Dead, is damn good - now, it's not a Romero film, but it does bring with it many of Romero's staples, as well as those 'borrowed' from Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Craven's The Hills Have Eyes, and other cult horror movies. The film does shy away from becoming an outright gore fest, but the characters, plotline, and overall filmmaking are all top-notch.

The plot is straightforward: a multi-national forestry company is working on a way to increasing logging yield. Although it isn't clear, it seems that the company has segregated an island in Canada, and is growing trees that have been genetically manipulated. Keeping an eye on this experimental crop is Carter (J.R. Bourne, whose credits include Stargate SG-1, The Exorcism Of Emily Rose, and the Sisters remake), who along with other technicians is busy collecting samples, and a variety of equally mundane tasks.

While the lumberjacks cut down as many trees as they can each day, a group of environmentalists attempts to stop them by holding protest rallies, chaining themselves to trees, and worst of all, spiking said trees. When a lumberjack attempts to cut up a spiked tree, his chainsaw strikes a spike. The recoil sends the chainsaw blade backward, ripping apart his shoulder. Sadly, this poor sap is also contaminated with some of the tree's sap, which turns him into one of the walking, flesh-eating dead.

The rest of the story has the company CEO's son (underplayed by Sage Brocklebank, whose credits include Stargate SG-1 and Connor's War) linking up with survivors - the aforementioned Carter, some lumberjacks, and a feisty environmentalist by the name of Rita (Stacy Lind, whose previous films include Fetching Cody and Crazy Late). The lumberjacks, scientists, and environmentalists must all put aside their differences and band together to fight off the increasing number of walking dead. Complicating matters even more is the company's attempt to control the disaster by quarantining the island and sending choppers with riflemen to kill off both the living and the dead.

Writers Carl Bessai (who also directed) and Travis McDonald borrow freely from numerous horror films but still manage to craft a film that stands on its own merits. Borrowed elements include the butthead who lets the zombies into the compound (as in Day Of The Dead), playing sadistic games with the zombies (Dawn Of The Dead remake), shaky camera work when focusing on the zombies (The Evil Dead and the Dawn Of The Dead remake), social commentary (any Romero zombie film), and a downbeat/ abrupt ending (Night Of The Living Dead and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre).

So, what keeps this film from being a zombie masterpiece? The most prominent flaw is the shaky camera work during the zombie sequences - most watchers of zombie movies want to see the frickin' zombies and the rattling/ rolling of the camera means that most of the time the zombies are blurs. Another flaw is the restraint shown with the gore. Yep, there are chainsaws and axes at work, but in most instances the camera pulls up or away and only hints at the gore.

Severed does have a strong cast, a good storyline (the zombie-making sap is as good as a contaminated Venus probe), and a grainy, gritty look that hearkens to the old days of movie making. Bessai has made one previous sleeper hit, 2001's sci-fi action flick Lola, and Severed also ranks as a good but not great film.

If you're a zombie fanatic (hey, I even own Twilight's Zombies!!! board game), then you should check out Severed.
Severed: Forest of the Dead

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