This moody, Irish film does a whole lot with not very much. The characters were excellently cast, the small cow farm turns horrifying with a few lighting tricks, and I have absolutely no complaints about the eventual “look” of the monster. Isolation reminded me a lot of The Thing and Jaws in the best sort of way; the audience knows that something is very wrong, lurking just below the surface, way before the first body hits the ground.
The story is simple enough. Desperation and outstanding bills have forced a broke farmer – Dan – to allow a scientist and reluctant veterinarian to experiment on his milking cows. Complicating the situation is the young Roma couple parked in Dan’s driveway, on the run from a bad situation. Something goes wrong with the experiment, releasing a parasitic monster onto the farm and leaving the five people stuck there to deal with the fallout.
Isolation is, at its core, about lonely people struggling in a world that appears to have pushed them aside and the relationships that form under extreme pressure. All of the characters are alone in multiple ways, which makes their eventual connections all the more powerful and ultimately tragic. Isolation doesn’t go very far into the backstories of the various characters, but doesn’t need to. This isn’t a story about their lives, but rather who these people are right now, in this specific moment. Normally this is a screenwriting technique that I’m wary of, since it’s rare that you can find just the right mix of actors to pull it off and a director that knows how to film them.
Isolation does that, and much more.
The actors did excellent, subdued work with the story. The connection that Dan forms with the young couple he initially shunned forms the emotional backbone of the story – these characters come to genuinely care for each other. The film implies that their initial strife was less due to discrimination (as it appears in the beginning) and more to the fact that people under stress just tend to lash out at whoever happens to be in the way.
I also appreciate that the film was sophisticated enough to explain that while the characters all got into the situation because of money, that doesn’t necessarily make them greedy. Instead, these characters are stuck in this increasingly horrible situation because they either need money to pay the bills (the phone doesn’t work), or because they don’t have enough money to really run away (somebody needs to pay for gas). With a lot of films, not just horror, it’s become something of a narrative shorthand to use “greed” as your go-to character fault that must be overcome. While this certainly works in horror, it overlooks the reality that a lot of people face in a capitalist society – life sucks when you don’t have enough money. Sometimes, that necessitates doing things that go against your conscious just to keep your head above water. Isolation doesn’t hit the audience over the head with the subtext, but it’s refreshingly clear on its take of capitalism and poverty. I also appreciate that the “agenda” of the story, insomuch as Isolation seems to be pushing one, doesn’t paint all science and genetic testing in the same broad stroke. Instead, Isolation argues that people desperate people will often find themselves in desperate situations, from which there are no easy escapes.
Isolation is an incredibly bleak film, both visually and with the tone of the story, which makes the occasional bursts of color and character all the more powerful. It is also one of the most brutal horror films that I’ve seen recently, in terms of blood and gore. Isolation is, without doubt, a body horror film. It is also a film about the reality of dealing with bodies – human and animal – and the messiness that entails. However, Isolation doesn’t condemn the farm for its untidiness. The dirt and mud make it clear exactly how hard the work is, but also make the scenes of birth seem (temporarily) lightened by the new life in their presence.
It’s also a credit to the film that one of the most horrifying scenes involves Dan wading through a pool of mud and manure, and it isn’t funny at all.
Isolation is an incredibly subdued monster movie, and an excellent character piece. I’m very sorry that I waited this long to watch it.