Combustible Celluloid
With: Rupert Friend, Brian Cox, Madeline Brewer, Mamie Gummer, Violet McGraw
Written by: Nick Amadeus, Josh Braun
Directed by: William Brent Bell
MPAA Rating: R for language, some violence and brief drug use
Running Time: 107
Date: 04/30/2021

Separation (2021)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Split Players

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

This "imaginary friend" horror movie takes its time and tries hard to focus on relationships and emotions, but the characters still feel somehow stiff and flat, as if they were only half-finished.

Unemployed comic book creator Jeff (Rupert Friend) is going through a messy divorce from his wife, Maggie (Mamie Gummer). Maggie wants full custody of their young daughter, Jenny (Violet McGraw), and Maggie's influential father, Rivers (Brian Cox), who thinks Jeff is an unfit dad, agrees.

But suddenly, Maggie is killed in a hit-and-run car accident, and Jeff finds himself fully in charge of Jenny. He dearly loves her, but even with help from the admiring, encouraging babysitter Samantha (Madeline Brewer), Jeff still struggles. Things become even more difficult when an unseen, possibly malevolent presence in the house makes itself known.

Coming from the director of the passable horror movie The Boy and its awful sequel Brahms: The Boy II, Separation feels as if it genuinely wants to delve into the emotions surrounding divorce and death, which is something that this genre usually doesn't bother with. Characters talk about their feelings with one another, but, weirdly, no one ever seems to really listen. It's as if the actors are merely practicing reading their lines back and forth at one another.

Separation includes some interesting, creepy imagery via the comic book art, and several related puppets and sculptures, but it's still very low on scares. When the monster finally appears, looking like a scary clown, it's design is all-too similar to so many other monsters, doing crabwalks, twisting its head around, making clicking noises, etc. It's old hat.

If that's not boring enough, the movie adds a seemingly random, last-minute twist that feels cheap and somewhat insulting, as well as one of those post-credits "buttons" that sets up a possible sequel. It's a shame that a movie that might have been an ambitious attempt to try something new ends up devolving into something so lazy and familiar.

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