William Brent Bell’s horror/thriller “Separation” is coming to theaters this week. It centers on 8-year-old Jenny (Violet McGraw) who after the tragic death of her mother, begins to see the puppets in her room, created by her artist father (Rupert Friend) come to life with dark and sinister repercussions. The plot does show potential to be a grim tale of ghoulish creatures lurking around every scene, but does it deliver something new in an already cluttered genre?
Where “Separation” Thrives
As a horror film there were ingredients of this one that I enjoyed. Usually in the genre these days jump-scares are a go-to for frights, and it’s a bit played out. This film certainly has a collection of them. Some which admittedly do land more effectively than others. But there was also a more direct approach to some of the ominous imagery that I appreciated. We get to see these haunting creatures for longer stretches. Something that had me engaged as the lingering moments were able to land some surprisingly chilling scenes. Seeing ghastly figures in the corner of rooms, or at the foot of a bed has been done countless times. Yet, with the framing of the shots from Bell, the timing of the scenes in the story, and the creature effects themselves, I felt there were solid moments of charming horror.
The plot here is a mash-up of familiar layers but with a charming performance from young Violet McGraw, I was still able to find the first-act set-up more than enough to have me intrigued and interested in where this otherwise predictable story would go. Seeing this family in turmoil after the loss of the matriarch provided modestly sincere dramatic layering. This built some sympathy for young Jenny, and I suppose her, not-so-great-father as well. Jeff means the best and has good intentions of taking the best possible care of his daughter, but you know it won’t go smoothly. Which does provide some appeal while watching. This created brief moments of uneasiness as many times I felt like something bad was about to happen. So, overall, there are some charming horror elements to grab onto in this cut-and-dry genre romp.
Where “Separation” Stumbles
The plot-progression was the biggest hindrance in keeping me from really getting into this movie. It starts with a routine, but serviceable opening. Sadly, from there it feels like it goes through the motions for the genre. Jeff conveniently gets a job as an artist for a new comic, and it of course conjures even more sinister real-life manifestations. Which I will admit are fun for what they are. But I was continually waiting for the intensity to really kick in, and it never came in grand fashion until the closing minutes. This made the second-act feel extremely long as Jeff and Jenny go through the check-list of the father/daughter dealing with evil spirits trope. Down to the impact it has on his job, and the tension it causes between them. Sprinkled with the tease of an inappropriate father/nanny relationship that felt more than a little contrived.
It all feels bland while watching and lacking the true intensity that the story is trying to make you feel. Friend as the father has his moments. On the other hand, he did feel like he was sleepwalking through the role. His performance was primarily lacking the natural emotional torment that the story was trying to pull him through, and since he didn’t seem too emotionally invested, I didn’t either. Brain Cox was also wasted as the cliche rich father-in-law with a grudge. And the somber New York locations also felt like a tried-and-true option for a film that already borrowed many of its elements.
The Final Verdict on “Separation”
I enjoyed portions of this film. I felt the visual appeal was nicely-crafted in areas of the story to land some fun moments of frightening and lively horror. The story-line however was a drag. The pacing was uneven, and it didn’t bring enough of its own creative elements to the table to stand on its own legs. McGraw was genuinely adorable as the tormented daughter and she is certainly the best thing this film has to offer. But Friend, despite being an actor I tend to enjoy seeing on-screen, felt a tad uninspired. The material on paper lacked ambition which didn’t leave him much to work with, unfortunately he didn’t feel overly engaged either. This translated to a flat lead character that you don’t really care too much about. Something that does hinder a horror flick that already rides the line of being generic and falls on the side of being forgettable.
Anthony J Digioia II - SilverScreen Analysis © All Rights Reserved