Rarely does a film physically anger me. Sure, I’ve been annoyed for wasting my time with a film before, but I hardly ever feel actual anger towards a movie and everyone involved in the making of it. Enter Severed Ways: The Norse Discovery of America. Think of the worst film you’ve ever seen and imagine if it was twice as bad…hell, triple. Then you’d be getting close to the quality of Severed Ways. Never has a film embodied the term “cinematic shit” more perfectly than this dreck.
I shouldn’t even bother providing a synopsis for the film, as that’s what's supposed to tease you into wanting to watch it, but for the sake of clarity, I’ll throw a little of the “story” out there. The Vikings find America, and after a large-scale battle with the North Americans (which we don’t get to see, as it would have conflicted with the film's strong stance of not including anything remotely awesome), the Vikings flee. Two of them however are left behind, thought dead. They are alive however, and we get to see them do a bunch of mundane shit like chopping down trees, walking through the woods, and attempting to acclimate themselves to this new world. They have horribly shot confrontations with Irish Christian monks and Indians, and one of the two Vikings is killed in a scuffle. The other one makes it to the winter, but dies walking around the forest. Oops! Did I just ruin the film?! Nah, it was already ruined…and so is my soul, which is forever tarnished at the thought of watching any ambitious indie films in the future.
I’ll throw Severed Ways one bone, and admit that it’s pretty damn realistic and authentic. If there was anything interesting going on, the setting and costume design would lend itself well to immersing you in the early days of America. The problem is it’s too entrenched in trying to be real, so much so that it’s filled to the brim with things that are about as entertaining to watch as paint drying (which is arguably more fun). At least 40 minutes of the film (and I might be shortchanging it) is nothing more than watching these two dopes walk around. The last time I checked, this was supposed to be a narrative film, not a documentary. And even someone filming a documentary is smart enough to know to cut this type of shit out. In fact, it gets so mind-numbingly dull that when it’s time for them to cut down some trees for two minutes, it’s a welcome spark of action. And yeah, this is the type of crap you’ll be spending your time with; watching them fish, bathe, make spears from trees, build shelter, and even shit…literally. Yes, you see a guy shit, and let me tell you, it’s not pretty. Why the fuck I had to be exposed to scat is beyond me. Although it definitely gives the term I used earlier, Cinematic Shit, an entirely new meaning. Director Tony Stone should sit around for a couple of weekends and watch every single film from Werner Herzog and Takeshi Kitano to understand how to film realistically but actually provide engaging entertainment.
As real as the film attempts to be, it just throws it all out the window with the ridiculously inappropriate soundtrack. I understand that black metal bands are into all of this Norse Viking shit, but in a film that seems to want to be as authentic as possible, even at the expense of entertainment, why the hell would you choose such modern music? And likewise, why would you have the characters actually acknowledge the music and headbang during a chapter introduction? Beats the hell out of me, but it works just fine with all of the other idiotic missteps throughout. The main score isn’t nearly as bad, but some of the more electronic-heavy pieces certainly don’t fit in well with the film’s surroundings.
Another huge point of contention is the god-awful cinematography. I am in no way exaggerating when I say scooping your eyes out with your bare hands would be less painful than having to endure this migraine waiting to happen. If you thought you’ve already seen the worst the “shaky cam” trend has to offer, you haven’t seen anything yet. The worse you’ve seen, be it a faux-documentary flick like Cloverfield or shitty horror remakes like Friday the 13th, are akin to a kid with ADHD that HAS taken his Ritalin when compared to what’s going on here. It’s not even during high-action scenes either (not that there’s many of those to begin with); seeing these two guys walking down the shoreline at the beginning of the film was nearly vomit-inducing. This isn’t naturalistic unless everything natural is having a fucking seizure. I pray to God the cinematographers are never heard from again, as here they've only ruined an equally shitty flick. Hopefully they're never allowed to work on something that has the potential not to suck, because they'll make sure that it does.
The last thing I have to bring up is the mistreatment of animals in this film. Now I’m not some hardcore PETA enthusiast, I eat meat every day just like the next average Joe, but in this day and age, it’s completely unacceptable to slaughter an animal for the sake of making a film. It’s fucking lazy. If these guys had any inkling of how to make a film or understood the meaning of subtlety, they’d realize that shooting right up until the slaughter and then cutting to the Vikings eating would be just as effective as forcing the viewer to watch one of these idiots chop the chicken’s head off, rip its feathers out, and disembowel it. It’s trying to be shocking just for the sake of it, and it’s stupidity of the highest order. Also, I’d like to send out a huge “FUCK YOU!” to all involved in the production that thought it was a bright idea to throw a torch at a pack of wolves, causing a spot of fur on one of them to catch fire. The wolf looks absolutely terrified, and I don’t give a shit if someone was waiting right off screen to put the fire out, it had to be a horribly traumatic experience for the animal. If you think otherwise, let me set a fire somewhere on your body and see how you like it. If you can’t do something right, don’t do it all. But then again, they went ahead and made this film, so common sense is probably too much to expect.
So, what else is there to say if you haven’t already gotten the idea that Severed Ways is arguably the worst celluloid travesty I’ve ever had the displeasure of seeing? How about this: if the greatest director to have ever lived, Akira Kurosawa, rose from the grave and cast some of the people from this film in his comeback picture, I wouldn’t watch it because seeing anyone that was involved in this in something else would only remind me of the two hours of my life I’ll never get back; I think this experience was more traumatic than when my dog was hit by a car and killed last year. Maybe the best way to sum up the quality of Severed Ways is in the immortal words of one Dean Wormer speaking about the GPA’s of the Delta’s from Animal House: “It’s a little below par; it stinks! Mr. Tony Stone…ZERO POINT ZERO!” Or maybe this will convey it better than any words ever could:
|Mmmmm, pretentious drivel.
It boggles the mind why a large studio like Magnolia would pick up a film like Severed Ways, something that’s not even worthy of being put out by Asylum, but at least they gave it the shitty treatment it deserves. While the 2.35:1 film is anamorphic, it looks awful, with tons of grain, artifacts, and interlacing. The title text for the “chapters” in the film shimmer and are aliased to all hell, and some of the scenes have this odd blue/red color bleeding issue that almost makes it look like you should be wearing 3D glasses or something. Overall, a suitably terrible transfer. The 5.1 audio is actually pretty decent, with a lot of nice directionality. The background sounds of the woods may be the flick's one shining element.
Extras include deleted scenes in case you’re a masochist, some nice shots of the surrounding woods that are in the vein of those “relaxing nature” DVD’s you find in bargain bins, slow motion footage of a burning church so those that get off on that type of thing have ample time to beat off, and trailers for this and a bunch of way better looking movies. Times like this are when I wish I got paid to review.
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