A Violent Separation is a painfully slow, poorly acted backwoods melodrama. The film aims to be a period noir thriller with its Midwestern setting and murder-centered plot. What we get is a molasses drip script spouted by Australian actors; showing off their southern twang dialogue lessons. There's nothing seedy, sexy, or violent to bring a hint of excitement to the story. A Violent Separation has a nifty title and nothing else.
The film takes place in 1983 rural Missouri. Titans star Brenton Thwaites plays Norman Young, a quiet and reserved deputy sheriff. He lives with his cowboy boots wearing, long-haired, and rambunctious brother, Ray (Ben Robson), in a trailer on the property of the Campbell family. Ray has a tumultuous relationship with the older Campbell daughter, Abbey (Claire Holt). They're a couple in a jealousy filled open relationship. Ray and Abbey have other lovers that they flaunt in front of each other. Fear the Walking Dead's Alycia Debnam Carey co-stars as Frances, the demure younger Campbell sister; who has long pined for Norman.
A tragic accident with Abbey has Ray begging for Norman's help. Norman protects his brother, but they are both devastated by the deed. With the local sheriff (Ted Levine) trying to piece together Abbey's disappearance, Norman must cover his tracks as an officer and dedicated brother. The deception grows as Frances seeks solace in Norman's arms. Ray does not have his brother's fortitude. The guilt of his actions leads to a dangerous downward spiral.
The premise did have promise. The failure on all levels is in the execution. A Violent Separation doesn't embrace the possibilities of its own storyline. It's a low-budget film with a good-looking cast that does nothing. The characters babble and muck about with zero sizzle to the plot. This is B-movie, late night cable territory. Directors Kevin and Michael Goetz needed a harder edge. The film screams for tawdriness. Sex and violence would have added more zip to the maudlin script. A Violent Separation is woefully lacking in grit.
Alycia Debnam-Carey and Brenton Thwaites are like oil and water. They are completely miscast. They're like planks of wood rubbing together. This is truly puzzling, but should have been obvious to the filmmakers in casting. You would expect two young Australian actors, who've become famous for playing Americans, to have viable chemistry on screen. They don't and it becomes one of the many glaring flaws in the film. Claire Holt, another Aussie who has a smidgen of screen time, is the only character with a hint of personality.
A Violent Separation spends an inordinate amount of time focusing on the criminal investigation. This might have worked if the script by Michael Arkof didn't portray law enforcement as keystone cops. Ted Levine, who played Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs, is a good character actor. The worst part is that he's a professional who's earnest in his delivery. I don't know what on earth he's doing as the sheriff in this film. Watching him bumble around with the obvious suspect standing in front of him is torturous. The writing is so bad, this cop couldn't find coffee in a Starbucks.
A Violent Separation is instantly forgettable. Ten minutes of Claire Holt isn't enough to float this sinker. Alycia Debnam-Carey and Brenton Thwaites' talents are evident on their hit television shows. They need to find better material for the big screen. A Violent Separation is available on demand and in limited theatrical release from Screen Media Films.