‘A Violent Separation’ Review: Murder in a Small Town

Gun violence and a police cover-up propel the story in A Violent Separation, a thriller from the filmmaking team of Michael and Kevin Goetz. A Violent Separation explores the consequences of carelessness with a loaded weapon as it affects two families in a small Missouri town.

Ray Young (Ben Robson) is a ne’er do well with a criminal record and a penchant for sleeping around, despite the fact he’s got a serious girlfriend. His brother Norman’s the polar opposite, strait-laced as they come. Norman (Brenton Thwaites) is a clean-cut, baby-faced cop with a limited ability for small talk with the ladies, even ones he’s known his entire life.

Ray’s in a relationship with Abbey Campbell (Claire Holt), a single mom who lives with her ailing dad and younger sister, Frances (Alycia Debnam-Carey). Abbey’s frustrated by Ray’s philandering but not enough so as to actually take any action. Frances, the more level-headed of the two, has a thing for Norman although Norman seems incapable of picking up the clues Frances tosses his way as the story gets underway.

A rowdy night at a roadhouse and bad decisions by each of the main characters leads to Abbey stealing her dad’s gun. Abbey uses some twisted logic to decide letting her cheating boyfriend teach her to shoot is the way to her man’s heart.

Of course, a loaded gun in a car with a couple in the midst of relationship problems isn’t a brilliant idea. Abbey winds up dead, but was it an accident? That question’s not explored as the film focuses on the cover-up of Abbey’s death. Ray talks his brother into going along with a cover-up and leaves poor discarded Abbey to be found after someone spots her car.

Given this is a small town with just a couple of sheriffs, Norman’s brought into the investigation. His intimate knowledge of the crime helps him steer Sheriff Ed Quinn (Ted Levine) away from the killer. Norman, who appears to be the only one of the sets of siblings with an actual job, is also forced to collaborate with his brother on holding Abbey’s sickly dad at bay.

As months pass and the killer remains on the loose, Ray spirals into a pit of despair. Walls begin closing in and relationships are strained to the point of breaking. Ray’s a tinderbox of emotions, racked with guilt and ready to explode from the lies and deceptions. The question is will he take down his loyal brother in the process?

A Violent Separation
Brenton Thwaites and Alycia Debnam-Carey in ‘A Violent Separation’ (Photo Courtesy of Screen Media Films)

Solid acting saves A Violent Separation from being a nearly thrill-less thriller. Brenton Thwaites (Titans, Gods of Egypt) and Ben Robson (Animal Kingdom, Vikings) have solid chemistry as diametrically opposed siblings. Ray’s a stereotypical bad boy, complete with long hair and a drinking problem, and his range of emotions ping-pongs between anger and despair for much of the film. Robson does a terrific job of displaying Ray’s inner turmoil as he sinks deeper into a state of depression.

Thwaites’ Norman isn’t quite so meaty. His strong moral compass is smashed when he chooses loyalty over the law, but seldom is the battle he must be waging evident on screen.

Claire Holt (The Originals) is gone far too soon from the drama. Once Abbey’s killed off it’s as if the character was inconsequential as anything other than a murder victim. Don’t expect to learn anything about her as a person other than how she died.

The standout performance of A Violent Separation is delivered by Alycia Debnam-Carey (Fear the Walking Dead, The 100). Debnam-Carey’s Frances is the most developed character and, fortunately, the second half of the film follows much of the story from her point of view as she pieces together clues to the identity of her sister’s killer.

Directors Michael and Kevin Goetz opt for a slow build and the second act’s a bit of a slog. It’s only in the third act the pacing heats up as clues that were obvious from the get-go are finally grasped by key players.

A Violent Separation doesn’t address the root cause of the action that drives the film. The focus instead is on a small group of characters as they act and react to the deadly shooting. Unfortunately, other than Debnam-Carey’s Frances, the central characters never feel fully developed and their struggles don’t come across as authentic.


MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Release Date: May 17, 2019

Running Time: 106 minutes

Studio: Screen Media Films