Directed by William Brent Bell.
Starring Rupert Friend, Madeleine Brewer, Brian Cox, Violet McGraw, Troy James, Simon Quarterman, and Mamie Gummer.
A young girl finds solace in her artist father and the ghost of her dead mother.
In a verbally explosive argument during 2019’s Marriage Story that has been memed to death, Adam Driver lost all cool and told his wife, played by Scarlett Johansson, that he wished she would get hit by a car. Cue William Brent Bell’s Separation (the director has been a regular on the horror scene as of late with his The Boy series and infamous stinker The Devil Inside, which told viewers to go to a website for the ending) where the custody battle is cut short by a hit-and-run on the mother.
In the context of a fright feature, the filmmakers can establish some intriguing dynamics with that setup. And for the first 30 or so minutes, Separation does appear to be working and focused on the grieving characters. However, the script from debut feature writers Nick Amadeus and Josh Braun seems to be more concerned with building to a so telegraphed twist; it would be a spoiler to describe certain characters in greater detail. You will be questioning yourself if it’s really that obvious, and yes, it’s really that obvious.
Nevertheless, Rupert Friend is Jeff, an unemployed graphic novel artist specializing in all things spooky, that has created a cast of creepy-looking puppets dubbed The Grisly Kin. Furthermore, they are such a staple of his own life that they have become ‘friends’ with his daughter Jenny (Violet McGraw). Although he’s not working (and this is one of the more confounding parts of the plot set up), Jenny does have a babysitter named Samantha (Madeline Brewer), who consistently encourages Jeff to get back into the art world. Then there’s the household’s matriarch, Maggie (Mamie Gummer), who disapproves of Jeff’s meandering lifestyle and never gets to see Jenny because she’s always working late into the night.
The verbal arguments become more frequent, leading to a custody battle in court with Maggie’s father, Rivers (Brian Cox), offering support. That is until the aforementioned hit-and-run occurs. Naturally, this changes everything around the home. Jenny is now speaking like a baby sometimes, there’s a ghost setting family portrait paintings on fire tarnishing Jeff’s face, and opportunity arises as, now a single parent, Jeff swallows his pride and takes on an inking job. Jenny also appears to be communicating with whatever supernatural force is present whereas the puppets also have come to life.
This is not really a spoiler, given that someone has to be going out of their way not to pay attention, but the ghost is Maggie. Exploring a spirit conflicted and existing between the two realms wanting to care for her daughter while simultaneously severely agitated at the circumstances of her death is a solid characterization to ensure both warmth and terror. Meanwhile, Rivers is a cartoonish villain picking up where his daughter left off, now trying to get custody for himself and suspicious that Jeff had something to do with her death. There is also a separate entity with no connection to anything going on, presumably serving as sequel bait if the ending credits are anything to go off of. In itself, it’s a bold move to show such confidence that any of this material is deserving of a follow-up.
Anyway, Jeff goes through the usual ghost story emotions; he Googles things on the Internet about spirits, he’s unbelievably ignorant to the fact that his wife is communicating with his daughter from the afterlife (he even watches some of these interactions from the monitor), and never once raises an eyebrow once it becomes clear who murdered his wife. Let’s say it’s also regressively hysterical work that I have no idea why some performers would even sign on to other than for a paycheck. It’s also never once scary, meaning Separation fails at both scares and drama.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com