All too often it is easy to see where a horror film is going very early on. An audience can either pick who the potential victims or culprits are, or spot the twist long before it arrives. With Greg White’s Separation this is not the case at all.
The film opens intriguingly with a little girl seemingly riding her bicycle in blissful ignorance of any imminent danger before running into her family home calling to her mother. What follows all seems pretty normal, if slightly awkward. We follow Liz (Sarah Manninen) and Jack (Peter Stebbings) as they move into their new home under the pretence of starting over following something unpleasant in their recent past, something that is threatening to tear them apart. The town to which they have moved appears to be mostly deserted apart from a few slightly strange characters and we hear news reports of serial killers in the area which may account for this to some extent.
Liz is clearly struggling more than Jack coming to terms with recent events and her over bearing mother (Barbara Gordon) does little to help, taking every opportunity to drive a wedge between her daughter and Jack. As they try and establish some level of normality they become increasingly suspicious of an over-friendly neighbour and events become stranger and stranger as it appears they are becoming victims of some unwelcome practical jokes.
It would be very wrong of me to reveal too much more about the plot as unpredictability is the films great strength. You are offered teasers throughout to its true nature but it isn’t until the final act, and to be honest, the final few scenes that you fully realise what Separation is about. To emphasise this the little girl on the bike is not fully explained until the very end. Writer, producer and director Greg White weaves together an intricate web of clues, some nodding towards the twists to come, some simply distractions. The end result is a film that may frustrate you at times as you try to get a handle on where it is going, but will always keep you interested right up until the final reveal.
In many hands this just wouldn’t work but there is an understated, almost voyeuristic feel to White’s direction that keeps the camera and the audience at a distance. This creates the effect that you are watching this family surreptitiously, quietly and secretly prying into their private moments as they deal with their demons and slip unstoppably towards a conclusion that while unpredictable, was always going to be unpleasant.
The cast are excellent in a similarly subdued way. The leads are strong and vulnerable at the same time and you genuinely believe in their characters while never fully understanding their motives until the end. The supporting cast performances help add to the whole feel of the film despite being mainly peripheral for the majority, and the soundtrack plays an equally important role, as if further underlining the point that something more than you realise is going on here.
I enjoyed Separation very much and am reluctant to say much more. It is possible that while watching it you may feel it is a little languid and indulgent but it is in review that the film’s strength is apparent. I would struggle to tell anyone exactly why they should watch this as it is hard to describe the plot without revealing too much, but it is a film worth seeking out. It is rare to find something that surprises you and Separation certainly does that. It may not warrant repeat viewing, but it certainly deserves an audience, and on this evidence Greg White is someone to watch for the future.