Friday, 8 December 2006

Isolation (2005)

In a cinema no one can hear you scream

You know it’s a Lionsgate film when it’s either a horror or a slasher movie done on a low budget, shot in nausea-inducing unsteady cam, and involves some form of disturbing or sickening gore. I’m talking about the studio that brought us such gems as The Blair Witch Project, The Devil’s Rejects and the Saw trilogy, but it’s also the same studio that brought us the awful and irredeemable Crank, Hostel, and Alone in the Dark. Isolation, helmed by novice director and writer Billy O’Brien, is one of the lower budget films of the Lionsgate lineup, and you begin to worry – generally speaking, the lesser films from this studio are its relatively cheaper ones.

On paper, though, Isolation shows promise. It’s a mutant killer animal film, the latest member of a club that includes good trashy flicks about mutant killer piranhas, cats, crocodiles, bees, spiders, flies, earthworms and even frogs. Yes, frogs. Then again, Exodus was the first mutant killer animal story. Isolation is about how genetic manipulation creates mutant killer cows that go moo, then eat people up. More specifically, our good farmer discovers that his very pregnant cow has given birth to a bad-tempered calf that bites the fingers off people foolish enough to pet it, like himself and a veterinarian. It turns out that the calf’s insides are all wrong, and it is also pregnant: the innards reveal tiny pouches of deformed, boneless, inside out cow fetuses. That are alive. And hungry. Obviously one escapes, and begins to terrorise the scientist, the farmer, the vet, and a pair of eloped lovers who arrive on the farm. The worst thing is, apparently the deformity is infectious, meaning every other cow on the farm could be giving birth to such monstrosities.

The problem is the execution of the movie: crippled by an ultra-low budget, O’Brien clearly does not have money to develop models and prosthetics for his mutant cow monsters, but still wants to write a story that evokes Alien, right down to the salivating monster on the ceiling shot, the stealthiness of the early lifecycle of the mutant cow, and how it eats through its victims’ bodies. What we end up seeing, though, are obviously jelly beans created from special moulds (I’m not joking about this!), and a piece of canvas wrapped around the skull of a cow in the one shot that you get to see a full-grown mutant.

With a somewhat competent ability to evoke the claustrophobic environment of the Aliens spaceship in a farmhouse, a credible cast, and an interesting premise, O’Brien somewhat creates a very disappointing movie. Isolation is not frightening at all, and is frankly embarrassing to watch once the monsters are unveilled. Neither is it entertaining and funny at all, unlike other mutant killer monster movies, which were invariably horror comedies. When O’Brien botched the final scene, forgetting to For a true horror movie that achieves what O’Brien tries to do, on a comparable budget, rent John Carpenter’s The Thing. For a horror comedy that shares the same ideas as O’Brien’s films, and pulls it off well, rent Joe Dante’s Piranha or James Cameron’s Piranha 2.

First published at incinemas on 14 December 2006

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