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HORROR

Separation | Slow Atmosphere and Surprising Twists

Marriage Story.

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If you’re a horror fan, chances are you’ve heard of William Brent Bell. His disastrous 2012 found-footage gimmick The Devil Inside was nothing but an upsell to a [now defunct] website link showcased how the film’s “story” ended. The Boy (and its sequel) were also terrible but not as offensive as The Devil Inside. Bell has already made a name for himself with that 2012 film, but he’s back, with a vengeance this time around, with Separation. Aptly titled, the film tells the story of comic book artist Jeff Vahn (Rupert Friend), who is in the process of finalizing a divorce from his wife, Maggie (Mamie Gummer), and determining who will get custody of their child, Jenny (Violet McGraw). However, Maggie suddenly dies after being hit by a car, and Jenny’s custody reverts to Jeff. Maggie’s father, Paul (Brian Cox), believes Jeff had something to do with the accident, but more pressing matters are at hand as Maggie’s spirit begins to haunt Jeff and Jenny, with the latter having some spiritual “attachment” with her. And if you’ve seen Bell’s previous films, it’s no different here. Just a dull and dreary “atmospheric horror” picture with some of the worst acting of the year.

Separation'

Granted, the acting isn’t all bad here. Rupert Friend and Brian Cox manage to hold their own even when the script starts to (quite literally) shit the bed. As of late, Cox has been an expert in playing irredeemable scumbags, and he brilliantly implements the talents he developed from Succession here seamlessly. It doesn’t matter if he pretty much plays the same dickish character as in the popular HBO show; Cox is always entertaining and seems to be the only one that truly cares about whatever film role he landed in, whether good or bad. On the other hand, Friend cannot carry a lead role in any movie. That was apparent in Hitman: Agent 47, but he seems determined to do good in Separation, even if the material is rather hackneyed.

How is it hackneyed, you ask? Well, for starters, it’s not scary. There’s a fairly creepy (if you will) ghost-like figure of a puppet that bends itself à la Pennywise/It that’s somewhat effective, but it’s only featured when Jeff has nightmares. Most of the “scares” happening in the film are inside Jeff (or Jenny’s) mind, which results in a rather weightless horror film. Maggie’s reincarnated spirit is as scary looking like the nightmare fuel wooden puppet in Steve Barron’s The Adventures of Pinocchio, whilst incorporating Udo Kier’s looks from that same film. [Side note: if you want to traumatize the living hell out of children, make them watch that movie]. It’s the only type of comparison I can recall since the film is still highly vivid in my memory, and everything looks so unsettling here. That’s a good thing, though, since the film has some sort of artistic vision.

Separation Cast And Character Guide (with Ending Spoilers)

The problem is: Bell and writers Nick Amadeus and Josh Braun don’t do anything with it to make it interesting in any capacity. Maggie is just…there…and passively haunts Jeff or the babysitter, Samantha (Madeline Brewer). And the more the film progresses, the easier it is to tell how apparent it is that it has absolutely nothing of interest to say about anything. Instead, it needlessly fills its time through tedious sequences in which Jeff has “visions” of “The Darkness,” which will eventually become the inspiration for his next comic, or he’ll try (and fail) to communicate with Maggie’s spirit through an Ayahuasca trip that’s both visually drab and completely unengaging. Heck, a drug this potent merits something truly insane, embracing its dark atmosphere to the fullest extent. Yet Bell never cares about any of that and solely focuses on how the “spirit” quasi-communicates to Jenny instead. But since we don’t spend much time with her, there’s no legitimate emotional connection to her or any of what’s happening in Separation. Oh, poor Jeff, he must fight Maggie’s evil father, who wants to take Jenny away from him, while at the same time worrying about Jenny’s mental state as Maggie’s spirit takes hold of her. If you don’t find that interesting, how about developing a will-they/won’t they relationship between Jeff and Samantha? Feels so 2000’s, right?

It’s also interesting to see how truly cheap the film’s VFX is, which exacerbates, even more, its penchant for early 2000s horror made by large studios. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film’s script were plucked from a list of unproduced movies made around that time that the previously defunct OpenRoad studios decided to…go for it in the hopes that it would revive their business. Spoiler alert: it doesn’t. Once its “twist” on who murdered Maggie gets revealed, Separation never really recovers. I don’t want to give it away because curious people reading this review may want to experience it for themselves at least once in their lives. So I’ll say this: it’s wild. It’s something you half-expect if you’re paying close attention to it, but it still absolutely makes no sense in the broader context of the picture. There’s something Bell likes to do and does it well, craft some of the worst endings I’ve seen in horror. It’s either non-endings, in the case of The Devil Inside, or ludicrous “revelations” in the case of his The Boy films and Separation. Here’s some food for thought: this entire film is ludicrous.

Separation wants to impress with its “slow atmosphere” and surprising twists. Yet, its twist reveals nothing strictly but turns the film’s serious setting into an unintentional comedy, absolutely deserving of every potential Golden Raspberry it will get. If you want a unique cinematic experience and continue to observe how William Brent Bell destroyed Giallo-like endings with his horror movies whilst seeing good potential squandered in an endless cesspool of…nothing…then Separation might be for you. Otherwise, stay as far away as possible [and from The Adventures of Pinocchio too…yikes.]

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HORROR

X | Official Trailer – A24

At a secluded farmhouse in Texas, a film crew arrives to shoot an adult film. Their hosts, a reclusive elderly couple, take a special interest in their young guests. As night falls the couple’s leering interest turns violent.

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Genre:

Drama, Horror, Mystery

Release Date:

March 18, 2022

Director:

Ti West

Cast:

Jenna Ortega, Mia Goth, Brittany Snow

Plot Summary:

At a secluded farmhouse in Texas, a film crew arrives to shoot an adult film. Their hosts, a reclusive elderly couple, take a special interest in their young guests. As night falls the couple’s leering interest turns violent.

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HORROR

Scream (2022) | Wes Craven Would Be Proud

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Scream has officially slashed its way into cinemas and brings with it a killer opening as Ghostface returns, serving up a self-deprecating meta buffet of a slasher sequel that relaunches with terrific terror and nostalgic scares which are bloody brutal. Scream has some big shoes to fill, the directors have to fill the shoes of horror icon Wes Craven, which they honourably do, and the screenwriters also have to honour the brilliance of Kevin Williamson and what he brought to this genre and his script for 1996’s Scream.

The fifth entry in the franchise is filled with references to the franchise’s past, movies of the past, present, sequels, remakes, and now Requel, which in itself is part reboot and part sequel. Scream also discusses topics, specifically horror films released throughout the 2000s to now as it’s very self-referential by using Halloween (2018) and Ghostbusters Afterlife, for example, showcasing that these franchises are making requels by setting the film in the same world, at a different time but adding new characters that are in ways related to the “Legacy” characters from the original. Scream knows that it’s a horror movie, and most importantly, it knows this fifth entry is no doubt a “legacy sequel”.

Twenty-five years after a streak of brutal murders shocked the quiet town of Woodsboro, a new killer has donned the Ghostface mask and begins targeting a group of teenagers to resurrect secrets from the town’s deadly past. Neve Campbell (“Sidney Prescott”), Courteney Cox (“Gale Weathers”) and David Arquette (“Dewey Riley”) return to their iconic roles in Scream alongside Melissa Barrera, Kyle Gallner, Mason Gooding, Mikey Madison, Dylan Minnette, Jenna Ortega, Jack Quaid, Marley Shelton, Jasmin Savoy Brown, and Sonia Ammar.

Years after the Ghostface killer first struck, teen Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega) gets an ominous phone call, whilst home alone, from a stranger asking what her favourite scary movie is. Scream opening sequences are so iconic to the franchise and this new modern take doesn’t disappoint as Tara is attacked and stabbed multiple times by someone wearing the Ghostface outfit from the in-universe “Stab” franchise, based on the Westboro murders committed by Billy Loomis and Stu Macher. The opening is shockingly suspenseful and wholly entertaining. 

Paramount Pictures

The focus here is on a group of young people who certainly have seen enough “Stab” movies to know that the killer could be one of their own including Tara’s estranged sister, Samantha (Melissa Barrera) along with her boyfriend Richie (Jack Quaid), who returns to Woodsboro to be with her.

Paramount Pictures

In any sequel, you hope that the new cast doesn’t fall flat and ultimately works well with the returning cast. Take 2018’s Halloween for example with Jamie Lee Curtis returning brings a new generation of Strode women specifically Laurie’s daughter and granddaughter, showing the audience how well the newcomers mix with the legacy characters. Scream successfully achieves this as all characters are handled well, though the body count, unfortunately, rises as Ghostface has some new tricks up its sleeve.

In passing the torch to fresh blood, this fifth entry showcases that there are layers of meta to uncover, fresh scars, and wicked fun to be had. The highlights were Jenna Ortega, Melissa Barrera, Jack Quaid. All work to drive the narrative along with the help of Sidney (Neve Campbell), Dewey (David Arquette), and Gale (Courteney Cox). The legacy characters truly provide the nostalgia and emotional connection, the filmmakers treat these iconic characters with the utmost respect.

Scream lives up to its slasher roots as Ghostface goes to town with the hapless victims like a butcher skewing his meat. Characters are sliced, stabbed, and ultimately gutted with glee. They’re brutal when happening but gory and glorious for some. However, some kills have impacts attached as many are heartbreaking and some you want Ghostface to go to town on. I was on the edge of my seat, as directors Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett who both previously directed Ready or Not, know how to build tension especially with Brian Tyler’s haunting and eerie score that truly intensifies the film.

Paramount pictures

Scream is about deconstructing the genre and pop culture of the day and aims at filmmaking with killing commentary that’ll make you scream with laughter, whilst still containing the known tropes of a slasher movie. Its squeal-inducing traps and false alarms are so well-earned.

Overall, I believe Wes Craven would be proud of this movie and what it does for fans of the slasher genre. It strikes a visual cord with its toxic fandom commentary and provides a phenomenal entry to the 21st century of modern horror. It’s entertaining with laughter and brutal deaths as Scream continues to reinvent itself and still manages to remain a consistent franchise 25 years later since it started it all.

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Classics

Reel Recommendations: Possession – One Restoration You Do Not Want To Miss

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One of my favorite elements in the horror genre is taking a contemporary story and somehow implementing the genre’s core elements. Take the film Cure (1997) directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa; the film is about a detective who is investigating a series of grizzly attacks by a serial killer. On the film’s surface, it is your simple crime-thriller ala David Fincher’s Se7en (1995) or his 2007, Zodiac. However, throughout the film, the viewer gets inside of the mind of his victims in a psychological battle between light and dark; understanding the killer’s motivations and way of attack. Enough talk about Cure (1997), that is for another time.

I hold this element of the genre close to my creative heart because the genre does not always need a monster or killer or the loose, the genre is about set-up, execution, and the atmosphere in which those two elements listed are contained. If you are looking for more horror films like that, that are not about unstable detectives, look no further than Andrzej Żuławski’s Possession.

This 40-year-old lost film has recently been gaining a cult following and the film distributor Metrograph has graced film fans with a restoration. My thoughts on that are listed below the review.

Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill @ Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981

Possession is a film about how division; division of two people who seem to be at odds and have fallen out of love for one another amidst the middle of the Berlin Wall, a division of communication between a couple and the affair that has brought them down as well as a division of body and state. Possession is about the breaking point between a couple as they’re in the very early stages of a divorce. They both have simply fallen out of love with one another and have started sleeping with other people, mainly Isabelle Adjani’s Anna. As Sam Neil’s Mark understands the situation unfolds, the more angry and sickly he becomes. There are points where he will look like he has not eaten in days and looks incredibly pale-skinned. There is a moment throughout the first 25 minutes where Neil is having a seizure in a cold sweat.

While Possession is a body horror in terms of visual effects, its a body horror from the performances given. We see both of the films leads reach sadistic and stomach-churning when it ocmes to range. The first half being dedicated to Sam Neil’s perspective of the situation and how he is treating himself during this change, where he goes from calm to physically abusive. Then as the story unfolds, Żuławski pays more attention to Adjani’s Anna, as an audiences we are opening the curtain to what she has been up to when the camera is not focused on her. The camera work works in one takes with very abrupt takes in its editing. Żuławski wants everything to feel like one fluid motion rather than have multiple takes for one single scene. The subway scene in particular roughly has about two-three takes and you do not evne notice because of how hypnotized you are to Adjani’s otherworldly performance. I am treading lightly on the plot due ot the genius of this film is to go in knowing nothing.

Isabelle Adjani, Sam Neill @ Possession (Andrzej Żuławski, 1981

Possession is one of those horror films that were lost in time but recently have been gaining a resurgence through word of mouth and many clamoring for a Criterion blu-ray release, and for good reason. Possession includes some of the best performances I have ever witnessed with direction that is unpredictable and keeps the audience on the edge of their seats. If there is one restoration you should have eyes on it is this one.

Restoration Review

Possession not only is a wonderful film but is also one of the best restorations I have seen recently. Metrograph elevates the horror film and at times looks like it was made from the last decade. The stark blue color pallette shines due to how cold and emotionally distant the characters are. The sound design is wonderful, every whisper is heard and understood, every scream feels like a scare, every tension-building moment plays like gangbusters. This is one restoration you do not want to miss especially for cult-genre fans.

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