Separation (2021) Review

Spoiler-free so you can read before you watch

Separation (2021) Review

Horrorific content by Christina Dee on June 24th, 2021 | Movie Review | Haunted, Supernatural, Psychological, Dysfunctional Family

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A young girl finds solace in her artist father and the ghost of her dead mother.

Separation was directed by William Brent Bell (known for The Boy and The Devil Inside) and stars Rupert Friend, Violet McGraw, Brian Cox (from The Ring, The Autopsy of Jane Doe) and Madeline Brewer (from Cam).

It won't let go

Separation Review

If you've ever been through a messy divorce or a nasty custody battle, then you already know such experiences are almost horrific enough to be prime horror fodder all on their own. Now imagine you're dealing with a soon-to-be-ex who's so vindictive, even death isn't enough to stop them from getting back at you. That's pretty much the premise of Separation, the latest offering from director William Brent Bell (The Boy, The Devil Inside).

At the center of the storyline is little 8-year-old Jenny (McGraw). She's trapped in a bitter custody battle between her soon-to-be-divorced parents, Maggie (Gummer) and Jeff (Friend), two people who couldn't possibly be more different. Maggie is a high-powered, seemingly vicious attorney, while Jeff is a wide-eyed, struggling graphic artist. However, just as Maggie is in the middle of threatening over the phone to move far away with Jenny, seemingly just to hurt Jeff, she wanders into traffic and is hit by a car. However, this is far from the last we'll see of Maggie.

It isn't long before a series of bizarre occurrences begins. Jenny seems to be communicating with an unseen supernatural figure that could possibly be her mother's ghost. Meanwhile, Jeff begins having horrific visions starring some of the life-sized puppets he's created. There are other challenges to contend with, as well, including Jeff's father-in-law (Cox), who also wants custody of Jenny, as well as the budding romantic interest of babysitter Samantha (Brewer).

If you think Separation sounds like a reasonably run-of-the-mill ghost story despite the somewhat unusual divorce backstory, you're pretty much right. Although the family drama aspect of the storyline is relatively interesting, director Bell mostly rehashes old territory regarding the horror aspects of the film. Unless you're brand new to horror films, you've seen all this before – the jump scares, the contorted nightmare figures, and so forth. However, the special effects are well-done and look great on-screen, so there's that.

Nick Amadeus and Josh Braun are responsible for Separation's screenplay, which struggles a bit, as some aspects of the storyline come across as much more believable than others. Not only can you see the ending coming a mile away, but it's pretty underwhelming when it finally plays out. (Again, you have to be very new to horror for anything to be much of a surprise here.) Many viewers may find the overplayed "vicious ex-wife" trope to be tired, unbelievable, and misogynistic, as well.

Of course, this isn't to say there's nothing to love about this film. Separation's greatest strength is its performances, even if the characters themselves don't always scan as true to life. Rupert Friend shines in his role, as does young Violet McGraw in hers. Those familiar with McGraw's performances in Doctor Sleep and The Haunting of Hill House will no doubt remember her knack for vulnerable, heartfelt performances and be pleased to see her in action again. Mamie Gummer and Brian Cox, two incredible actors in their own right, round things out with strong supporting performances that add nuance and depth to the film. The Brooklyn setting and eerie score by Brett Detar are also worthy of note.

Worth Watching?

Overall, Separation works better as a harrowing family drama than it does a horror film, as there's not much about it that's truly scary. As a genre movie, it's largely forgettable for that reason. However, it's still entertaining enough to be worth watching once, especially if you have a soft spot in your heart for any of Bell's other films. Just take the whole experience with a grain of salt or two.

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