Separation Synopsis: Jeff (Rupert Friend), a once-famed animator who flamed out of the industry, is forced to raise his daughter Jenny due to the passing of his ex-wife. While trying to deal with a custody battle with his father-in-law (Brian Cox), Jeff and Jenny begin to experience supernatural happenings from some of Jeff’s newfound creations.
As theaters cautiously re-work towards profitability, studios utilize this ominous time period to clear up some of their long-delayed backlogs. Offerings like Chaos Walking and New Mutants finally gained a spotlight amidst a slow-rollout period, although neither film inspired much positivity once they reached the screen. Mixed results aside, it’s been a joy to see these dormant projects finally unearthed for viewers to appreciate. I will always vouge for a film to see the light of day rather than spending years in cinematic purgatory.
That’s where William Brent Bell’s latest haunted house spookfest Separation comes into play, arriving in theaters over two years since its initial filming date. Bell certainly hasn’t conjured the best track record to date (The Boy films and the infamous The Devil Inside), but his film’s admirable blend of domestic drama and supernatural horror isn’t without promise. Unfortunately, the potential dissipates in a spiritless vacuum of audience’s time and interest.
Horror operates as a limitless canvas for eager filmmakers, often showcasing high-concept ideas despite limited budgetary resources. Separation embraces none of that open-hearted creativity. Bell’s tired, dimly lit visuals seem almost bored with themselves, performing the bare minimum to push the narrative forward or elicit much in terms of tension. It doesn’t help that the director continues his overuse of routine jump scares. The unimaginative sequences never stay a step ahead of well-informed audiences, with the inclusion of cheaply-implemented CGI effects doing little to inspire much excitement.
I will say, William Brent Bell shows some signs of improvement (I’d go as far as to say it’s his best film to date). His patient build-up allows audiences to gain a modicum of investment towards the narrative’s domestic drama. It’s certainly nothing inventive or dynamic, but a well-rounded gallery of veteran actors perform some steady lifting with their formulaic roles (it’s never bad to see Brian Cox onscreen). In a better film, the film’s depictions of an artist finding his drive amidst family tragedy could tie into potent themes on grief and art’s revealing purpose.
Separation never proves to be up to that task. Screenwriters Nick Amadeus and Josh Braun imbue the most generic of developments, never giving the capable cast much range to exhibit onscreen (Rupert Friend’s protagonist isn’t a particularly interesting slacker). Every character feels entirely flavorless, with the intended emotional connection between Jeff and Jenny exclusively featuring sappy, Hallmark-esque sequences. It all ends with a laughably predictable twist that minimizes intriguing supernatural elements into dated stereotypes (the twist feels like a hail mary to give this narrative a pulse).
It may score points for general competency, but Separation flatly sleepwalks through a majority of its runtime. I am glad to see some minor improvements with this William Brent Bell effort though, so I’ll be rooting for some more positive gains with his next project.
Separation opens in theaters nationwide on April 30th.
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