Isolation is a contrived gimmick flick that shoehorns in topical fodder without nuance or authenticity.
Isolation, a horror anthology co-produced by James P. Gannon and Nathan Crooker, is made of nine shorts created and set in life during the pandemic. They’re mostly dead on arrival, though, as the anxieties and terrors that defined the past two years are so familiar and recently lived-in that these shorts feel shallow in comparison. The first film, Larry Fessenden’s Fever, proves a decent opener as it makes evident the low-budget nature and peculiar circumstances of filmmaking by showing shots of empty cities. As a man becomes delirious, stop-motion is used to unsettle and disorient, but it’s utilized too infrequently and without much purpose beyond being a signifier of mood. Even worse are the depictions of this stifled time; a shot of New Yorkers banging on pots outside their windows serves as little more than an announcement of a desire for community. That the narrator then directly explains this idea is regrettable spoon-feeding.
Such superficiality is constantly on display. All these shorts, for example, are prefaced with the name of a city. Doing this instead of showing the film’s title is a befuddling move, as little distinguishes these films by their location. One could argue this maneuver is meant as a signpost for the universality of the pandemic experience, but that would require substantial throughlines that link films together. Certain shorts take a look at conspiratorial attitudes, for instance, but they’re laughably unrealistic as to feel both less fascinating and terrifying than knowing such people in real life. Andrew Kasch’s 5G has an exaggerated script that makes the short read like unintentional comedy even during its intentionally amusing moments, while Alix Austin & Keir Siewert’s It’s Inside is delightfully bloody but nothing else, using the protagonist’s loony logic as an easy path toward a grisly climax. There’s no insightful commentary, nor is the character fleshed out enough to be a captivating window into such self-destructive mentalities, but at least offers opportunity to gleefully wince.
The most memorable passages in Isolation are those that capture some semblance of atmosphere. Alexandra Neary’s Homebodies utilizes found footage for effective moments of trepidation, but that’s a consolation prize for a story that doesn’t meaningfully build on a premise involving a company’s voracious need for exciting news stories. Kyle I. Kelley & Adam R. Brown’s Meat Hands and Zach Passero’s Gust are fine, if only because their quiet explorations of loneliness are comparatively innocuous. But more often than not, these films struggle in a way that’s typified by Bobby Roe’s Pacific Northwest, which follows two children as they try to survive escaped convicts; the short hobbles along inelegantly with forced moments of suspense. Isolation never gets past its gimmick, as contrived premises are shoehorned and presented without nuance, failing to capture any real emotions or experiences related to life in lockdown.
Published as part of Before We Vanish | November 2021.