'Isabelle': Film Review | Busan 2018
Adam Brody and Amanda Crew headline the latest entry in the fractured-family/psychological-horror sub-genre.
Lifting a page from the same playbook that guided recent psychology-first shockers like The Babadook and Hereditary, Robert Heydon’s minor-key, low-budget horror flick Isabelle sees a young expectant mother dealing with the next-door neighbor from hell — possibly literally. Quickly paced and based on a novel, and creepy, idea, the film fritters away its potential by delivering only a modicum of horror and compounding that disappointment with some creaky performances. Isabelle could gain some traction at genre-specific festivals and on streaming from horror completists, but it’s too average to stand out and the scares are too few and far between to make much of an impact at the box office.
Adam Brody (phoning in his performance) and Amanda Crew (Silicon Valley) are Matt and Larissa Kane, a happily married couple newly relocated to a quaint, quiet neighborhood and eagerly anticipating the birth of their first son. Larissa is an overly anxious, overly cautious woman who believes every little thing — from certain foods to third-trimester sex — can be hazardous for her unborn baby. Shortly after moving into their gigantic new home (he’s a lawyer), Larissa goes to collect the mail and notices one of her neighbors, Isabel (Zoe Belkin), staring at her from her second-story window, which immediately prompts massive bleeding and a trip to the hospital. Larissa flatlines for about a minute, but the Kanes’ baby is sadly stillborn. During what should be her postpartum recovery, Larissa finds herself stuck somewhere between madness and depression, seeing and hearing her baby everywhere, and catching Isabel watching her even more intensely.
You would think a setup like that was a can’t-miss proposition that could delve into our collective fear of doing something wrong when it comes to pregnancy or take a look at the grief involved in miscarriage, but Heydon and writer Donald Martin split the film in two, giving one half over to Larissa’s pain over losing her baby and the other to her afterlife experience (she saw “something” when she died) and the creepy house next door with its history of devil worship. Matt seeks help first from the hospital chaplain (Dayo Ade) and then his sister-in-law (Krista Bridges), both of whom immediately jump to the conclusion that Larissa’s problem is possession and that Isabel is the spirit that’s taking over. Because reasons.
Either film would be fine, except Isabelle doesn’t know which one it wants to be, and it isn't helped by a not wholly convincing turn by Crew as Larissa, who toggles between grieving mother and petulant teenager. There are some images that leave an impression, among them Isabel’s sudden appearance in the Kanes’ bedroom, her glowing red eyes and her ungainly appropriation of Larissa’s wedding gown as a sign that she’s coming for more than just the dress. And Sheila McCarthy is always dependably odd, here playing Isabel’s skittish mother Ann. Technical specs are fine, if flat, and the sparse special effects get the job done, including a faux baby that’s thankfully more convincing than the one in American Sniper.
Production company: Rob Heydon Productions
Cast: Adam Brody, Amanda Crew, Zoe Belkin, Sheila McCarthy, Booth Savage, Dayo Ade, Michael Miranda, Krista Bridges
Director-producer: Robert Heydon
Screenwriter: Donald Martin
Executive producer: Sid Ganis, Paul Brett, Peter Nichols, Sigurjon Sighvatsson, Donald Martin
Director of photography: Pasha Patriki
Production designer: Diana Abbatangelo
Editor: Diane Brunjes
Music: Mark Koreven
Casting: Nicole Hilliard-Forde
Venue: Busan International Film Festival
World sales: Out of the Blue Entertainment