Cinematic Releases: Separation (2021) - Reviewed

Schlock horror purveyor William Brent Bell, best known for The Devil Inside and The Boy movies, is back with yet another supernatural horror movie involving a creepy child with a new “friend”, jump scares with the volume cranked up, creepy clown dolls and a jaded horror moviegoing audience tired of being fed the same crap again.  Despite a difficult year with the movies considering the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 nonetheless has delivered some terrific horror movies in the first few months including but not limited to In the Earth, The Night and The Vigil, making the arrival of played out trash like Bell’s latest venture Separation all the more frustrating.
The story in short involves a custody battle between a has-been comic book artist named Jeff Vahn (Rupert Friend, who also co-produced) and his well-to-do ex-wife Maggie (Mamie Gummer) over their eight-year-old daughter Jenny (Violet McGraw).  Immediately following a tragic accident claiming Maggie’s life, widower Jeff and Jenny begin experiencing haunting visions of a mysterious maternal figure.  Could it be Maggie’s soul from beyond the grave, or something more sinister and from the unknown?
When it isn’t being a tired custody drama before shifting gears into tired jump scare horror involving the comic-book artist’s creations coming to vivid life, it leaves room for a Freddy Got Fingered thread involving Jeff’s newfound success returning to comic book penciling.  Somewhere in the film there’s also room for an ayahuasca trip in an effort to speak to the dead?  The rules of this thing are all over the place and even when we eventually figure them out, they’re not particularly scary or interesting to ponder. 

As with William Brent Bell’s previous movies, you can predict and count the jump scare beats from start to finish, forecasted by the film’s ooky spooky score by Brett Detar and the often dimly lit cinematography by Karl Walter Lindenlaub.  Production values are fair with some modestly rendered CGI effects, but the screenplay by Nick Amadeus and Josh Braun doesn’t do anything new with the genre tropes and story elements.  For what it’s worth, even the recently released The Unholy managed to do something new with the boilerplate devil-horror movie layout.
Despite good performances from Rupert Friend, Mamie Gummer and the overqualified Brian Cox as the little girl’s grandfather still fighting the custody battle left behind by his late daughter, Separation is mostly a tedious slog.  Though the appearance of contortionist Troy James as one of the artist’s puppets coming to life ala the excised spider-walk scene from The Exorcist will get your attention, it’s an all too brief moment that doesn’t manage to pierce through the mediocrity of this thing as a whole. 

Word has it William Brent Bell is working on another horror movie yet to be released.  My friendly suggestion is to steer clear of this guy’s output if you can.  While great artistic leaps continue to be made within the genre (last year’s Possessor comes to mind), Separation is another half-bored backwards step into jump scare creepy clown unfinished business ghost fodder made by a filmmaker happy to keep peddling the same played-out dreck on unsuspecting horror filmgoers yet again.

--Andrew Kotwicki