Separation has the potential to go down as one of the weakest horror films this year. It’s an intriguing film at the start, but then shifts into a lifeless blend of cliches, horrid direction, wasted acting from those involved, and several other questionable filmmaking decisions. Coming from the same director that has worked on The Boy, Brahms: The Boy 2, and The Devil Inside, this film being a trainwreck should come as no surprise. A horror film with a divorce driving most of its narrative, Separation fails to come off as anything other than an insult to its viewers.
The amount of effort that went into this film seems minimal, but as mentioned above the acting is decent enough. It’s impressive that a horrendously executed film managed to acquire some terrific performers. Separation’s early moments are promising, but once tragedy strikes it progressively gets worse. Directed by William Brent Bell, and written by Josh Braun and Nick Amadeus. Separation stars Brian Cox, Violet McGraw, Madeline Brewer, Mamie Gummer, and Rupert Friend. The film follows Jeff Vahn (Friend), a failed artist who is going through a divorce from his wife, Maggie Vahn (Gummer). At the center of their unhealthy exchanges is their daughter, Jenny Vahn (McGraw). After an unfortunate accident, Jenny finds solace in her artist father and a new ghostly best friend.
Braun and Amadeus have a screenplay that shows potential, but Separation falls flat on several angles. However, after initially viewing the film, it does have a clever transition from being a haunted house film to becoming a whodunnit. Jeff and Maggie’s crumbling marriage is taking a toll on not only them but their daughter as well. Maggie’s father, Paul Rivers (Cox), is brought into it and none of these characters are likable. Jenny, the young girl who is the target of this ghostly presence is the closest person for viewers to care about while watching this film. Maggie is understandably upset at Jeff for being unemployed but is presented as being aggressively rude to him, while Jeff just takes it all in from not only her but his father-in-law too.
Characters bickering over child custody back and forth in a lazy manner for most of its runtime doesn’t provide room to particularly care what happens. The writing in Separation attempts to be shocking but is anything but shocking once the conflict is resolved. The development for these characters is weak, but Jeff does have a new career path by the end of the film, so his character growth is present in ways. In fact, Jeff’s growth as an artist is made to be more important than his growth as a father, so his growth is uneven. The whodunnit side of this film is poorly done because the film decides to pretend it can outsmart its audience. Instances in Separation make it abundantly clear who is to blame, but viewers will be treated to prolonged stalling as the film progresses. While the script isn’t overly bad, or illogical, it’s just very lazy and the film never feels like it has the emotional weight it’s looking for.
Bell’s direction is void of any tension building, odd pacing choices, and it just feels like it’s coasting through to the credits. There are moments to spark terror, but even those moments are lackluster due to this poor direction. Thankfully, the performances are adequate to keep your interest. Cox is wonderful as the unlikable father-in-law, as many would expect. McGraw and Friend are terrific as father and daughter, and this relationship is one of the only believable aspects in this film. The chemistry is there, and you want to see this relationship blossom. McGraw is terrific as this heartbroken little girl who just wants her parents to get along, and viewers will feel for her. Also, Separation does include some rather chilling puppet imagery throughout, and it’s amplified by the decision to hide them in the shadows when they appear.
Separation struggles to leave an impact, despite its solid setup at the start to get audiences interested. McGraw and everyone involved should be proud of their efforts though because they managed to make the most out of a rough situation. The art department for this film is also a major highlight. If there is anything to be learned from this film, it’s that going through a divorce can be a struggle, but that doesn’t mean audiences should have to suffer with you.