Horror is often a cheap genre; it can be made with low costs and perhaps even low effort, but it can turn in a huge profit if it turns out to be effective enough to draw in a crowd. Producing house and genre giant Blumhouse has even made this their calling card; even their poorest, cheapest efforts tend to pack at least a tiny bit of punch and some good moments, which is all you really need to make a lot of cash these days. All in all, horror is a genre that can make you a quick buck in no time and even the smallest film can become an overnight success.
Isabelle, A Canadian-American horror film from director Robert Heydon unfortunately packs no punches and fails almost on every level.
Isabelle follows the pregnant Larissa (Amanda Crew) and her husband Matt (Adam Brody) as they eagerly wait for the arrival of their baby. They’re the picture-perfect couple living in a beautiful house in a lovely neighbourhood; this is the American dream. One day Larissa strikes up a conversation with their reserved neighbour and sees a young woman staring at her from the upstairs window. Immediately after locking eyes with the sinister young woman, Larissa starts bleeding heavily and is rushed to a hospital. She loses the baby, but this is only the beginning of the nightmare.
Isabelle plays with a lot of familiar themes and imagery but never manages to find its own voice and identity in a genre that is already packed with much better films. Recycling old narratives is lazy, but a solidly made film is always entertaining, but Isabelle just feels like a missed opportunity. Motherhood is, and undoubtedly always will be of interest for horror filmmakers. Whether it’s the horror of motherhood itself or the broken bond between a mother and a child during a miscarriage, it’s a theme ripe for the horror treatment and Isabelle could have been a fascinating look into the spiralling psyche of a woman who has suffered the greatest loss imaginable.
Director Robert Heydon, along with writer Donald Martin have bitten off a bigger slice of cake than they can chew on. In fact, they’ve gone around the table and taken a slice of every cake available and made them into one messy dessert, which just isn’t that appetising. Isabelle features too many familiar elements from far better films and it fails to nail down the tone and overall narrative it wants to strive for. Heydon swaps between a parental horror, psychological horror and possession horror, but the transitions aren’t smooth and Heydon can’t juggle them in a satisfying way. When the credits roll, the viewer is left uncertain what kind of a film they just watched.
The acting is mediocre and forgettable. The biggest disappointment here is Adam Brody, who turned in a magnificent performance in this year’s Ready Or Not, one that was deeply rooted in trauma and guilt. Here, he comes across as uninterested and uninvested in his character Matt, who is written paper-thin and gets very little to do apart from doubting the sanity of his wife. Amanda Crew doesn’t fare much better, but the problems with her character are mainly down to the script and the lack of identity and a clear thematical narrative in the film. Crew’s Larissa goes between a frenzied mother, a woman doubting her sanity and a woman convinced supernatural elements are threatening her life and marriage.
Overall, Isabelle is a disappointing film, mainly because it has so much potential. It isn’t the worst horror film in existence, but there was so much that could have been improved upon. Not everything about the film is rotten, there are some nice moments and even some chilling scenes, but it never comes together as a cohesive product.
Dir: Robert Heydon
Scr: Donald Martin
Cast: Amanda Crew, Adam Brody, Zoe Belkin, Sheila McCarthy
Prd: Robert Heydon
DOP: Pasha Patriki
Music: Mark Korven
Run time: 81 min
ISABELLE will be available on UK digital platforms from 30th September