Reviewed by Erik W. Van Der Wolf
Starring Ashley-Rebekah Faulkner, Steve Saturn
Written by Louis Manfield, Andrew P. Aguilar, Dennis Hanley
Directed by Louis Manfield
The quickest way to lose your audience is to have your main character do something so nonsensical it leaves them feeling as though said character deserves whatever happens to them afterward. This was Wolf Creek’s undoing. What started out as a highly effective slow burn horror flick was undone in the final moments by the main character altering her path of certain escape to do something so utterly stupid it undermined everything that had preceded it and shattered any hold the film had worked so hard to have on the viewer.
Unfortunately, this type of event happens within the first ten minutes of Birth of Separation; thus, we never become truly engaged in the film, which sets it up for failure from the get-go. However, that failure is earned in many other ways as well.
Directed by Louis Manfield and written by Manfield, Andrew P. Aguilar and Dennis Hanley, the film introduces us to city housewife, Elizabeth, who is nearing the end of her pregnancy. After hubby and their older daughter head off to work and school for the day, there’s a knock on the front door. She opens it to find a man named Jerome standing on the porch handing out flyers about his missing son. After a brief empathetic conversation (as a fellow parent she can relate to his suffering), she does the unthinkable and invites him into her home.. He doesn’t dupe her into letting him in, doesn’t ask to use the bathroom, doesn’t force his way inside. No – this very pregnant woman who can barely get around, who is alone, living in the city, invites a strange man into her home on her own accord. And it’s at this point you pretty much check out of the film as a viewer.
As completely expected, Jerome has less than honorable intentions, and it’s not long before Elizabeth finds herself knocked unconscious and tied to a kitchen chair when she wakes. And faster than you can say Hard Candy, Birth of Separation turns into a stage play-esque, two-character piece wherein Jerome engages Elizabeth in a one-hour and eighteen-minute conversation to “get to know her better” and evasive answers are met with severe physical punishment. As Jerome steers their dialogue, it’s obvious this is not a random act and that he knows absolutely everything about Elizabeth; who she is, what she does, where she comes from, and why her pregnancy is a “miracle” (it’s revealed early on her older daughter is adopted). We’re barely fifteen minutes into this pow-wow when Manfield, Aguilar and Hanley commit the worst cinema sin of all, which is allowing the audience to get ahead of the story. So far ahead, in fact, it makes watching the film incredibly boring. Even the least savvy of filmgoers will figure out the reveal pretty early on, and pray as you might there will be some type of story reversal to make the film interesting, there is none to be found. Anywhere. The story is unfortunately so predictable if it were a road you could drive it at night blindfolded. The problems only get worse when Elizabeth makes more eye-rolling decisions near the climax (think Neve Campbell’s rant in Scream), a climax which is, quite frankly, a yawner.
While what Manifield and Co. are going for here is appreciated, what they failed to realize is what makes films like Hard Candy or Polanski’s Death and the Maiden work is that those screenplays are well crafted games of cat and mouse with many role reversals. There’s also a sense of mystery. In Hard Candy we don’t know if Hayley is right about Jeff’s guilt in the death of her friend. There are times when it appears she doesn’t even know for certain. And when Jeff proclaims his innocence so convincingly, we begin to suspect Hayley may actually be dead wrong and if she kills him it will be a tragedy. But when Jeff makes inconsistent statements, we begin to think maybe she is right. We simply do not know until the very end.
In Death and the Maiden we have no clue whatsoever if Ben Kingsley’s character is the man who tortured Sigourney Weaver’s when she was a political prisoner. She was blindfolded, and given she was mentally scarred from the incident, can her word about recognizing his distinctive laugh be trusted? Or is it merely a similar laugh and she’s about to kill an innocent man?
In both of these examples each character gets the upper hand at different points in the story as the tables turn, then turn yet again. The end results are masterfully crafted films which keep the viewer completely in the dark, and just when you think you know the answers and choose a side, the carpet is yanked out from under you once more. Thus, we are invested in those film and are compelled to watch and find out the truth.
Sadly, not so much here. Birth of Separation is a one-note piece that offers no surprises whatsoever. And given that Jerome already knows all the answers to the questions he poses to Elizabeth, why go through the entire charade to begin with? There’s no mystery he’s trying to solve. No information he seeks. He already knows everything. And, unfortunately, so do we.
Performances by leads Ashley-Rebekah Faulkner and Steve Saturn are so-so. These types of roles require nuance, and neither seems to have the acting chops to pull that off. They do little more than scream, cry and stare intently. But, again, they aren’t given much to work with.
Ultimately this film simply does not work. There are no layers to peel back, no character arcs and, worst of all, no journey of discovery. All essential elements for this kind of piece to be effective and compelling. Sadly, this one misses the mark.
1 out of 5
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