On the heels of The Unholy comes another tepid Hollywood horror film with a world-wounded male character fumbling about at its center. The simply-titled Separation, directed by William Brent Bell (The Boy and its sequel Brahms: The Boy II, The Devil Inside), scripted by Nick Amadeus and Josh Braun (who has produced some really good films like A History of Violence and The House of the Devil), follows a struggling Brooklynite comics artist, Jeff (Rupert Friend), in the wake of a bitter separation and custody dispute with Maggie (Mamie Gummer) over young daughter Jenny (Violet McGraw). Jeff's art is one of macabre puppets and graphic novels--embraced in turn by the artsy Jenny in a beguiling, non-fearful way. Maggie has a corporate, more steady work-life, and comes from wealth as well. The two have a very tense relationship and things take a sudden turn at the end of the film's act.
The idea to shape a horror film around a family drama like this one, is a good, though this cloudy-looking, wan picture doesn't ever take off the ground in either genre (in its relationship and grief-stricken dramatic moments and in its horror elements). Its unfortunate, as the movie opens with a brilliant main titles sequence of drawn creatures. But as things progress, the horror moments in particular fall flat, with lots of inconclusive scares. After a while, the horror becomes yawn-worthy. Basically puppets come to life and creatures and ghosts bump around, but their presence doesn't feel particularly unnerving. Despite a sturdy cast and the feeling of "trying something outside-the-usual-horror-route," the movie is pretty inert throughout. Its "twist" is an unfortunate one, as it bogs the movie down in even more unnecessary weightiness. Could this have felt fresher and punchier had the film been less wound within Jeff's blank perspective and more through the eyes of the more potentially interesting women on the periphery? Perhaps unintentionally, the movie becomes a woe-is-me male victim story that could have been juicier, creepy and more fun. *1/2