'A Violent Separation': Film Review

A Violent Separation Still 1 - Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of Screen Media Films
Sluggish and unconvincing.

Brenton Thwaites and Ben Robson play brothers attempting to cover up an accidental shooting death in Kevin and Michael Goetz's thriller set in rural America.

The new thriller directed by brothers Kevin and Michel Goetz (Scenic Route, Martyrs) strains for biblical resonance in its tale of deadly violence and sibling conflict. Unfortunately, the themes don't resonate in sufficiently powerful fashion to compensate for the film's sluggish pacing and strained melodramatics. Featuring, for some reason, a mostly Australian and British cast in the major roles, A Violent Separation proves mostly tedious and forgettable.

The story is set in rural America, where guns, and gun accidents, are a way of life. Sure enough, the precipitating event in Michael Arkof's screenplay is the accidental firing of a gun during a heated argument between single mother Abbey (Claire Holt, of The Vampire Diaries and Pretty Little Liars) and her boyfriend, Ray (Ben Robson, Animal Kingdom, Vikings), while they're driving down a deserted back road. The gun goes off when the car hits a bump and Abbey winds up dead, so the panicked Ray, who has been convicted of several crimes in the past, hides her body in an effort to cover up his involvement.

In desperation, Ray turns to his younger brother Norman (Brenton Thwaites, Gods of Egypt and The Giver), who happens to be the local deputy sheriff, for help. Norman reluctantly agrees, subtly attempting to thwart the ensuing investigation led by his boss, a wily veteran sheriff (Ted Levine, Silence of the Lambs and Monk) who seems to know every one of the town's citizens personally.

Norman, a baby-faced, straight-arrow type, is deeply conflicted about his actions. He becomes even more guilt-ridden after beginning a romantic relationship with Abbey's younger sister Frances (Alycia Debnam-Carey), who becomes increasingly determined to solve the mystery of her sister's death. Meanwhile, Ray is cracking under the strain of keeping his secret.

The storyline would seem to hold the promise of suspenseful drama, but the execution is sadly lacking. The characters, including the romantically timid Norman, who seems barely old enough for his job, and the bad-boy Ray, who looks like a walking advertisement for white trash, mainly come across as stereotypes. The narrative momentum frequently stalls, with the fractured storyline becoming increasingly confusing the more it goes on. The dialogue rarely rises above the level of cliche, and the would-be shocking climax feels forced and unconvincing.

While the performances by the two leads are merely serviceable, Debnam-Carey does compelling work as the grief-stricken sister. The film's real scene-stealers, however, are veteran character actors Levine, cannily underplaying and all the more effective for it, and Gerald McRaney (This Is Us), who brings subtly powerful shadings to his turn as Abbey and Frances' seriously ailing but still commanding father.

Production: Catapult Entertainment Group, Cliffbrook Films, Needle's Eye Productions, Productivity Media, Third Law Productions
Distributor: Screen Media Films
Cast: Brenton Thwaites, Ben Robson, Alycia Debnam-Carey, Claire Holt, Ted Levine, Francesca Eastwood, Gerald McRaney, Peter Michael Goetz, Michael Malarkey
Directors: Kevin Goetz, Michael Goetz
Screenwriter: Michael Arkof
Producers: Dan Clifton, Christopher Watkins, Kevin Goetz
Executive producers: Shawn Lawler, David C. Smith, Michael Goetz, Michael Arkof, Brenton Thwaites, Sean Patrick Burke, Kris Meyer, William Santor, Alan Chang-Sang, Jason Moring, Stanley Preschutti, Kevin McCarthy, Luke Daniels, Alan Pao, Sherman Brown, Jared Smith
Director of photography: Sean Odea
Production designer: Frank Zito
Editor: Kindra Marra
Composer: Evan Goldman
Costume designer: Diana Embree
Casting: Jordan Bass, Lauren Bass

106 minutes