(TBC) Running time: 80 minutes
Director: Greg White
Writer: Greg White
Cast: Sarah Manninen, Peter Stebbings, Dmitry Chepovetsky, Rob deLeeuw
Available to rent or download via TheHorrorShow.TV
Reviewed by: Matt Wavish
There is a sense of dread running through Greg White’s magnificent thriller, and that feeling of unease begins with the opening shot of a young girl on a bike. The shot is not explained, but to open a film like this will have you on edge from the very beginning. From the moment a Separation begins, you know something is not right, and that level of unease keeps up throughout this skilfully written and well executed psycho thriller.
We soon learn that the title of the film refers to parents Liz (Sarah Manninen) and Jack (Peter Stebbings) coming close to losing their marriage, and have moved in to a house in the suburbs in an attempt to fix things. Also moving in with them is their daughter Angie (Arcadia Kendal) and Liz’s Mother (Barbara Gordon). The relationship between Liz and Jack is rocky, their daughter barely speaks to them, but it seems the move is reigniting some love in this troubled marriage. However, there are dark, sinister happenings going on: Liz is suffering from some horrific visions, Jack’s stress levels are rising as he watches his suffering wife get worse, and there seems to be a traumatic event which has caused the rift in the marriage, and it keeps coming back to haunt them.
Manninen and Stebbings play their parts exceptionally well, Manninen especially portrays a woman on the edge of sanity and going downhill fast. The two actors are the driving force of the film, and they will keep your attention whenever they are on screen (which is 99% of the time).You really feel it for this long suffering family, and as Liz’s visions get worse, Jack gets more upset, and they struggle to communicate with their daughter, you really wish for some happiness in their lives. Sadly, that is not coming anytime soon as it seems they have moved in to a street full of weirdos. The salesman who sold them the house they bought, Guy Sellers (deLeeuw), is a bizarre man who hangs around outside, and pops up every now and then, making the family uncomfortable. Then there is the writer of the neighbourhood news, the ultra creepy Geoffrey (Chepovetsky). He hands the family a welcome gift, but also during their first meeting he is desperate to see in the house, and almost attempts to barge his way in. There is also a current news report of a serial killer on the loose who snatches young girls, and a police officer allowed back on the case the catch the killer. We, the viewer, become very suspicious of everyone poking their nose around the new additions to the neighbourhood.
Hoping to re-start their lives, the family begin to struggle due to all this new found stress around them with all these strange neighbours and talk of serial killers. It is not helping their marriage, and as Liz’s visions get increasingly darker and more violent, we expect the worst for them.
Writer and director Greg White produces a tight, believable script that is delivered by two impressive leads. The rest of the cast struggle in parts, but for an indie film this is to be expected, and in all honesty this film is about Liz and Jack, and they carry the film well. White’s direction is good too: the film slowly builds momentum, using calm camera shots that become increasingly more active as the films tension mounts. The film is mostly set in one house, and so achieves a brooding, claustrophobic menace and the feeling of dread is only enhanced by the single setting. Liz’s visions of demon-like monsters and grotesque faces add a little extra to the over-used psycho next door thriller, and while Separation is predominately a thriller, it has some nice horror touches thanks to what Liz see’s. It also gives us one of the best examples I have ever seen of someone quite literally losing their mind, achieved by Liz simply sitting down to dinner with her family. Liz constantly reminding herself in the mirror “you’re a good Mother” is also a harsh reminder of the demons she is trying to keep out, and you really have to hand it to Manninen for giving such a strong performance. She’s damn fine to look at too!
Separation uses creepy, piano led music and rumblings of deep, moody sounds to provide the film with a classic 90’s like psycho thriller feel, and the almost TV movie like look of the film adds to its strengths. Had the film looked overly produced and too well made, it may have suffered from being too polished. Thankfully, the films indie look and feel makes it feel much more likeable, and far more entertaining than those budget films that try desperately to look like an expensive Hollywood production. White is happy with the basics, and it is only when the visions come out that he travels out of a grounded, realistic approach.
The films build up is intense, and while the moody atmosphere and strong leading characters will have you hooked, it is the final payoff that will leave you talking about this film, and recommending it. Even if you find the story slow, maybe a little poorly edited and acted in places, all the films shortcomings (and there aren’t many) can be forgiven thanks to a truly jaw-dropping finish that is guaranteed to take you by surprise. It is this ending that cements White as a director to watch, and a director with some serious skills. Separation is not perfect, and yes there is work to be done, but as a debut feature length film, you couldn’t ask for better. At times, Separation is astonishing, but the finale is bordering on genius. Greg White, you sneaky bastard!