Although I'd never use such a harsh word as "rip-off," it's hard to deny that the shadow of Shaun of the Dead hangs heavily over Severance. More importantly, it's hard to deny that the new film is not nearly so effective as its predecessor; while Edgar Wright's 2004 romantic comedy with zombies was one of the funniest motion pictures of the current decade, Christopher Smith's 2006 slasher satire is at best fitfully amusing.

It's very, very easy to understand why: while the earlier film was simultaneously a zombie film and a comedy and a romance, and many times over the course of the movie those three strands intersected at one point, Severance is always either a slasher film or a comedy. There are a handful of gags that successfully wring laughter out of the ostensibly horrifying moments onscreen, but they are few. For the most part, the scary parts are the scary parts, the funny parts are the funny parts, and never the twain meet.

Individually, none of it is particularly bad, and that's certainly something worth praising. Superficially, the story resembles The Office, although Severance never comes close to the painfully hilarious level of that benchmark sitcom: the British sales division of Palisade Defence is on a team-building weekend in the Hungarian backcountry, not because anyone particularly expects to have fun, but because that is what the central bureaucracy wants them to do. The participants are a collection of white collar archetypes that are sufficiently well-written and superbly acted so as to rise above cliché to become roundish characters: the joyless, neurotic boss Richard (Tim McInnerny, who can never possibly squander the goodwill he has earned with me by appearing in three of the four Blackadder series); golden boy salesman Harris (Toby Stephens); drugged-out slacker Steve (Danny Dyer); the prim, nervous Jill (Claudie Blakely); soft-spoken, strong-willed Billy (Babou Ceesay); enthusiastic toady Gordon (Andy Nyman); and the requisite American, Maggie (Canadian actress Laura Harris).

Our merry band of heroes goes through several gags that you've almost certainly seen before in one of history's many workplace movies and television series, but familiarity is not a huge liability here; at any rate, there are a few laugh-out-loud moments, several more moments that put a grin on your face but no more, and just enough gags that fall completely flat to keep the comedy from being completely acceptable.

But it's hardly any time (the opening sequence, actually, which turns out to tie back in to a much later point in the story) before we are made aware that Something Evil Comes, and thus Severance turns into a horror film that plays out with the inevitability of Noh theater. Each character dies more or less as we would expect them to, except for the ones that survive, who we can pick out by the end of the first reel (the order of death is also fairly predictable, although I was way far off in regards to one single character).

Perhaps this is just my recent plunge into the heady world of the Friday the 13th series, but I actually found that Severance works pretty well as a slasher film, given that we've passed the point when that subgenre can plausibly deliver a legitimately great motion picture. It's actually sort of frightening here and there, and unlike its American counterparts, it utilise gore for effect, rather than for style points. The deaths are all "classy" deaths, within the world of the genre, save for one lowbrow joke that we can see coming for miles and miles away, that hits all of the wrong notes.

And yes, I'm aware that I was just complaining that the horror and comedy don't intermingle enough, but that doesn't matter much if that intermingling isn't done properly.

Still, there's something slack about all this. The palpable love of filmmaking that Wright spreads across every scene in his film is almost totally absent, and while it's not fair of me to slag a film for not living up to the standards of Shaun of the Dead, it's really damn hard to argue that the current film didn't find its genesis in a desire to mimic the first movie's formula. But Christopher Smith is not Edgar Wright, and his project is very low key, instead of operatically creative like its precursor.

But really, that's secondary to the main issue here: it's not a funny slasher film, it's not a scary comedy, it's half of a horror film welded to half of an office satire, and Smith and his co-writer James Moran never find the right balance between the two points, nor do they devise a way to reliably switch between the two modes without a bit of turbulence.

This is particularly disappointing when we consider the ripeness with which the slasher genre can lend itself to humor. The over-appreciated Scream managed that trick over ten years ago; and with two of the worst-written films in history so recently under my belt, I can attest that there is much to mock and wax ironic over in the traditional formula. But except for a couple of extremely subtle riffs on the contrivance of any old-school slasher, there's no commentary on the form, which was such a major sub-theme in Shaun of the Dead (there's that title again. I should maybe stop doing that).

When all is said and done, did I have a good time? Yes, mostly. But Severance really didn't stay with me at all, on any level. It just doesn't try very hard. Which isn't one of the deadly sins or anything, but in the environment that it was born to, it seems like a complete waste of opportunity to make this film so low-energy. What can I say - I laughed anyway. But they were not exceptionally rich laughs.