Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Review: Isabelle

Cert: 18*1 / 80 mins / Dir. Rob Heydon / Trailer

Well, then. The 2018 British Horror Film Festival took place at Cineworld Leicester Square on Sat 24th November, and I was lucky enough to see some of its content. I've done a quick roundup of some of the short films on offer here. There were things to watch, there were questions to be asked and I'm delighted to note that most of my pointers from last year seem to have been taken onboard. Nice to know I'm not wasting my time, at least.

Part of all this was Rob Heydon's Isabelle, the story of Larissa (Amanda Crew) and Matt (Adam Brody), a young couple expecting a baby who move into a new house in New York State*2. When Larissa miscarries, the trauma and isolation she feels is heightened by the strange young wheelchair-bound woman in the neighbouring house, Isabelle (Zoë Belkin), who always seems to be watching from the upstairs window. And none of this is helped by the girl's reclusive mother Ann (Sheila McCarthy) and the hushed whispers in the neighbourhood about the house…

First things first, this wasn't a hate-watch. Second things second, I didn't hate it. Third things third, but I have issues. Or rather, the film has


Oh, mate. When your supernatural neighbour is actually, really, actual cackling, you're probably trying too hard. Yet conversely, not hard enough. It's fine having the creepy villain sitting in the upstairs window next door, but like the Eiffel Tower in a bad euro-thriller, she's apparently visible from every room in Larissa and Matt's house.

The film feels let down by its own jump-scares and desaturated colour-palette. Blumhouse have already flogged that horse to death and I'm certain Isabelle had more to offer at an early stage. Heydon can't quite make up his mind what story he wants to tell, or how it needs to be told. Between the eerie nursery, the near-death experience, the Samara-Lite™ across the way, the third-act exposition coming from a series of old newspaper articles and a possession sub-plot which isn't sure if it's based around fanatical Catholicism or the occult, there's a disappointing lack of anything actually new.

Oh, and the baddie has glowing red eyes. That's how we know she's bad.


Isabelle is structurally sound but feels like it's bringing nothing to the party. It has the air of a short film which has been expanded out to feature-length*3, but then doesn't have the extra writing to properly explore the psychological roots of it characters. On top of this jumble, we get occasional scenes from inside next door's house which telegraph the backstory before our protagonists find out, so that it's not clear whose perspective this is all coming from.

The film runs on rails like a ghost train made by people who have only ridden on other ghost trains. The story's big reveal takes its sweet time coming, which is ironic since it's been telegraphed since the first appearance of The Ghoul Next Door. Mark Korven's score is intrusive, not bad per se, but just generic fare played too loudly and too often. And Finder Spyder, the in-movie search engine equivalent of the Wilhelm Scream, for when you know in advance that Google will just say no.

Oh, and then there's some tacked-on, batshit-crazy Sliding Doors type ending which can only be because a) writer Donald Martin wanted a happier ending than the one the screenplay was otherwise headed to, or b) writer Donald Martin thinks this might leave it open to… a… a sequel (quiet at the back).


I actually felt slightly bad about watching Isabelle in a cinema (although it was thankfully the one of the day where the creators weren't present in the room), because this is otherwise destined straight for the DVD shelf in Sainsbury's. And not the one with the chart releases on it.

The worst thing is that the emotional cornerstone of Isabelle is grief, with Amanda Crew and Adam Brody both turning in really strong performances and moments of genuine upset. To a lesser extent there's a parallel story playing out over at Isabelle's house, although that's really not explored. All of this seems like it's gone to waste as a lot of heavyweight issues and themes are papered over with a cheap horror flick, the very opposite of what the genre is best at.

Fun fact: Isabelle won the award for Best Feature Film at the British Horror Film Festival 2018.

Unrelated fact: Because the screening of The Exorcism Of Karen Walker was cancelled at the 11th hour*4, Isabelle was the only feature film to play at the British Horror Film Festival 2018.

Make of that what you will.

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
All of the other suburban horror-flicks, let's be fair.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It's not.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
Stream it, tops.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
I've you've watched it as well, probably not.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 2: Amanda Crew was in that Age Of Adaline with Harrison 'Solo' Ford.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Well, the rating on my ticket and on Cineworld's website says it's an 18, but the film isn't actually listed on the BBFC site yet which means it isn't officially rated. It plays like a 15, anyway. [ BACK ]

*2 Yeah, I don't quite understand how a film from a Canadian director, with a Canadian cast and set in America is being presented at the British Horror Film Festival, either. Although this sort of thing happened last year, too. [ BACK ]

*3 Well, 80 minutes. I mean, 90 is the rock-bottom standard for a feature, but 80 (including the end-credits, remember) just feels like it isn't trying. Yet at the same time, there's a lot of padding which could come out with no adverse affect (probably the opposite, in fact). [ BACK ]

*4 And this is in no way intended to put down the BHFF, but what was last year a multi-day festival with four feature screenings plus shorts on the one I attended, seems to have become a one-day event with twelve shorts and one full-length movie (due to the aforementioned cancellation). Less of a Festival™ and more of a Hiring Out Screen 2 For The Day™ with some trophies in the corner. And while it was moderately busy, the screenings I was at weren't sold out and seemed to be mostly populated by people coming to watch their own movies, although I suspect that's a Film Festival thing in general. I just get the impression that either interest in the BHFF is waning, or it was organised at the last minute. Frightfest doesn't have this problem. There, I said it. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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