Review by Sean Boelman
Director William Brent Bell isn’t exactly known for making the best quality horror movies, but they are generally at least pretty entertaining, and that fills a void left at multiplexes by the pandemic. Unfortunately for cinemagoers, his latest film Separation isn’t particularly scary, but it’s perhaps a bit more perceptive than it initially lets on.
The movie follows a comic book artist and his daughter whose lives begin to unravel after they experience a terrible tragedy. The marketing would have you think that this is a supernatural horror flick, and while there are definitely elements of that there, it’s more a divorce drama than anything.
That said, it’s highly unlikely that anyone is coming to a mainstream horror movie with the intention of seeing stirring family drama. There are a few cool and mildly creepy images spread throughout the film, but nothing is ever startling, much less dread-inducing. As a horror movie, this is entirely lacking in originality in its approach.
Additionally, the film is either far too much or far too little in terms of its themes. Portions of the movie that explore the protagonist’s struggle to be a better father are really conventional and on the nose, but there is an entire storyline about grief that is underdeveloped to the point of feeling like an afterthought. If a horror film is going to go for a cross-genre approach, it at least needs to be fully developed.
All of the characters are also very generic. The protagonist is a slacker father who means the best and wants to be there for his kid, but always seems to come up short. There is the rich father-in-law trying to take away his grandchild because he thinks he knows what is best. And the twist can be seen a mile away because of shoddy character development.
Still, the actors are able to take these thinly-written roles and make them somewhat compelling. Rupert Friend plays the lead, and while his turn isn’t a show-stopper, it makes one intrigued to see what he could do with a full-fledged horror flick. Celebrated actor Brian Cox also shows up in the supporting cast, and surprisingly isn’t wasted, giving a decent turn to elevate a mediocre film.
Bell tries to do some ambitious things with his movie stylistically, but perhaps due to low budget or more likely indecisiveness, his vision is never expounded upon. There are some interesting things in the supernatural aspect of the film, but it never goes all-in on world-building, and as such, these scenes feel out-of-place.
Separation is watchable, even if it works slightly better as a drama than a horror flick. Regardless, theaters are in desperate need of content right now regardless of quality, and this is worthy enough to sell a few tickets.
Separation opens in theaters on April 30.