28th Mar2019

MANIFF 2019: ‘Isabelle’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Amanda Crew, Adam Brody, Zoë Belkin, Sheila McCarthy, Booth Savage, Krista Bridges, Michael Miranda, Dayo Ade, David Tompa | Written by Donald Martin | Directed by Rob Heydon

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Directed by Rob Heydon, suburban chiller Isabelle just about gets the job done, though it lacks focus and misses several opportunities to make its scares actually mean something.

Adam Brody (The O.C.) stars as Matt Kane, a successful, middle-class lawyer who moves into a spacious new house with his heavily pregnant wife Larissa (Silicon Valley‘s Amanda Crew). However, after meeting her creepy neighbour Ann (Sheila McCarthy), Larissa collapses and is rushed to hospital, where she loses the baby and spends a minute clinically dead while on the operating table.

When she returns home, Larissa begins seeing and hearing things in the house, including the sound of her baby crying. As Matt becomes increasingly concerned for his wife’s well-being, they become suspicious of their neighbours – not just Ann, and her penchant for lighting multiple candles of an evening, but also her wheelchair-bound daughter Isabelle (Zoë Belkin), who’s been watching Larissa and Matt from her upstairs window and whose eyes appear to have a strange red glow.

Crew is a likeable actor who’s been consistently under-used by Hollywood (even in Silicon Valley she’s given next to nothing to do), so it’s a treat to see her handed a lead role here and she acquits herself nicely, evoking strong sympathy for Larissa as she battles a combination of depression, grief and possible supernatural possession.

Brody, in turn, underplays his role, making Matt a rather straightforward character, which is a shame, as there’s a cockiness to the actor’s standard screen persona that could have been put to interesting use here. In addition, McCarthy is sufficiently weird as Ann (if she was your neighbour you’d move immediately), while Belkin is an effectively unsettling presence as Isabelle, her creepiness heightened by the fact that she never speaks.

Heydon is on solid ground when it comes to creating a suitably spooky atmosphere and he orchestrates a number of decent jump scares, even getting mileage out of the usual horror staples like the ‘appears-behind-you-in-the-mirror’ shot. He also keeps the action down to a commendable 80 minutes, ensuring that there’s very little in the way of drag.

However, the film isn’t quite so successful when it comes to the script. In particular, there’s a lack of focus that means the film can’t quite decide on the nature of the threat facing Larissa and Matt – is it demonic possession caused by Ann’s devil worship, Isabelle’s pent-up jealousy and frustration or something else entirely? There are some explanatory flashbacks at one point, but they only make things more confusing.

On a similar note, the film wastes multiple opportunities to explore real fears and to dig deep into genuine human emotion, particularly regarding the issues of pregnancy, miscarriage, grief and depression, all of which are treated in a largely superficial manner by the script.

On top of that, the ending is decidedly underwhelming and likely to induce more groans than gasps. With that said, this remains a watchable little chiller that gets a pass thanks to an efficiently delivered set of scares and a pair of likeable performances.

**½  2.5/5

Isabelle screened at the Manchester International Film Festival on Friday 8th March and Sunday 10th March 2019.

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