When unemployed comic book artist, Jeff Vahn (played by Rupert Friend), is on the cusp of losing his daughter, his wife is killed in a hit-and-run car ‘accident’. This is where the loose story forks and takes on two different paths, adding an extra layer of much-needed substance to what otherwise would be a mediocre premise.
Maggie Vahn (played by Mamie Gummer) is on the verge of taking her daughter away from her loving but hopeless father when she is knocked over and killed by a hit-and-run driver. The story here takes us down the path of jobless Jeff as he fights to win custody over maternal grandpa, Paul Rivers (Brian Cox). We see Jeff’s plight as he tries to find a job and bring a bit of stability into his daughter’s life.
Running alongside this storyline, we have the horror element as Maggie is back and looking for revenge. Taking the form of one of her widow’s creations; an evil clown-cum-demon that haunts the family home. First appearing in the form of a dream, Demon Maggie starts to entice her estranged daughter up to the attic. Here she continues the toxic parenting she died doing and drives a wedge between father and daughter.
The entity is at first confused to be a figment of a bereaving daughter’s mind. It’s only as the movie rolls on does Jeff really understand what lurks within his home.
Separation is a Slow-Burner
Despite the movie traveling along two veins, Separation often feels like a drawn-out test of endurance. The horror moments are few and far between and, despite some great acting from Friend and Cox, feel tired, cliched, and lackluster.
While some elements have the potential to be creepy, they often miss the mark and resort to low-budget effects and unintentionally comical moments. It almost feels like a crying shame when some possibly great moments fall flat on their faces; such a waste of true horror potential. I can’t help but feel that this movie would have been something special under a Japanese director and cast.
This is the case to the extent of making the best part of the movie to be the storyline involving the ongoing custody battle, as opposed to the intended horror. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the supposed sub-plot is quite captivating and is the saving grace of separation. Without this factor to hold my interest in the outcome, this movie would have scored a far lower score from me.
The Cast of Separation
The cast that makes up Separation is relatively unknown to me. Apart from Madeline Brewer, who I recognized as Janine from Handmaid’s Tale, I don’t recall seeing any of the talents in other movies. This is far from a bad thing. On the contrary, the acting in Separation is beyond superb. Violet McGraw who plays Jenny, the bereaving daughter, shows real promise of a great career in the industry. Likewise, Friend and Cox portray their characters with a certain prowess that draws you into their worlds.
Separation makes a far better drama than it does a horror. If the story concentrated more on the plights of a broken family and the fight for custody of the innocent party, Jenny, the movie could have been something special. Instead, they chose to add in a handful of horror cliches and tropes that only went to diminish the quality of the production.
The movie does reach what’s supposed to be a climactic crescendo and hits us with a twist. The twist, however, was quickly guessed by my amateur detective of a wife. Aside from the shaky horror storyline, Separation does hold some pleasurable moments, it just sadly fails to scare throughout.