Retro Review: SEPARATION (2011){0}

Separation Anxiety

While most indie horror films are interested in getting you as much “bang for the buck” as humanly possible, there are always a few filmmakers out there who insist on using the horror genre as a vehicle for plain, simple, and sometimes painfully “relatable” stories about the frank difficulties of normal life. (Check out films like Marianne, Absentia, or Citadel for a few great examples.) Simply put: we’re all afraid of sharks, stalkers, and monsters; that’s the easy stuff. So kudos to the independent filmmakers who make horror films and suspense thrillers about “normal” fears like loss, regret, betrayal, and isolation.

Already it sounds like Greg White’s sanguine film Separation is a downbeat and miserable affair, but it’s actually quite a calm, confident, and gradually engaging thriller about one married couple, their mysterious daughter, and a handful of hidden secrets that feel a bit random at the outset, but quickly congeal into a satisfying little movie. It’s one of those movies where you’ll keep guessing what the twists will be, and you may nail a few, but Mr. White also manages to stay ahead of even the more astute viewers.

All one needs to know is that Liz (Sarah Manninen) and Jack (Peter Stebbings) are a married couple in serious trouble. Early clues indicate that they’ve recently survived a horrible family tragedy, and it doesn’t seem like moving into a big new house has done much to alleviate the couple’s stress level. The husband and wife also have to deal with A) a daughter who clearly has some emotional issues, B) a mother-in-law who nitpicks a lot, and C) a bizarre neighbor who drops by late at night… just to say hi.

For a low-budget and dialogue-heavy thriller with a small cast and (at most) two locations, Separation manages to cover a lot of interesting ground. As the title suggests, Liz and Jack are clearly drifting apart, young Angie has a talent for getting lost while riding her bike, which leads to “separation” anxiety that any parent can relate to, and (of course) there seems to be something supernatural going on… because what is a ghost but a soul separated from its body?

Separation is a smart, quiet, and fascinating piece of “dramatic” horror storytelling; it’s not about shocking you with simple scares. It’s actually about normal fears we live with every day, and it handles them with a good deal of class, confidence, and insight. (It doesn’t hurt that both leads are excellent and that there’s a great sense of crafty energy once we’re past Act I.) No gimmicks, no gore, just a nice feature-length Twilight Zone episode with a few cool ideas and some strong payoffs.


– Scott Weinberg (@scottEweinberg)

In the UK? Stream or download Separation at TheHorrorShow.TV