The Movie Waffler New Release Review (VOD) - ISABELLE | The Movie Waffler

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New Release Review (VOD) - ISABELLE

isabelle review
After moving into a new home, a young couple is menaced by a supernatural presence.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Rob Heydon

Starring: Amanda Crew, Adam Brody, Zoē Belkin, Sheila McCarthy, Krista Bridges

isabelle horror film poster

The out of focus opening credits of possession horror Isabelle, a haphazardly framed sequence depicting someone (or something - yikes!) skulking about a household where all the bulbs seem to have blown, initially lends the film an excitingly clandestine quality. With the distinct signifier of the film’s spooky score overlying the fuzzy, obscurely cropped shadows, the sensation is like watching a third generation VHS copy of a video nasty or a shit cam of some horror film not out in your territory for ages (I’ve only ever indulged in this practice once: Hostel when I was very young and knew no better, and wouldn’t have been able too see it in the cinema anyway, so don’t judge). Make the most of this illicit thrill, however, genre fans, as the happy accident of this intro soon blands out into the sort of toothless girl-gone-satanic flick which, for whatever reason, gets churned out every year whether we like it or not.

isabelle review
The poor filmmaking of the first few minutes extends into the first act, where we are given introductions to Matt (Adam Brody) and Larissa (Amanda Crew - good and doing her best here), a polite and photogenic C1 couple moving into leafy suburbia, upping sticks to the supposed calm of manicured neighbourhoods as, of course, Larissa is with child.

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Full disclosure: this sort of thing always gets my ideological heckles up, the received wisdom that a threat to the American middle-class dream is automatically The Worst Thing that could be conceived of. Matt and Larissa aren’t really characters (according to the dictionary.com definition of "the aggregate of features and traits that form the individual nature of some person or thing"), they are reminders of glossy images we’ve seen in television commercials or advertising prestige appliances in magazines. Heaven forfend that evil old Satan should interfere with our collective social aspirations.

isabelle review
Yep, it’s that nob Satan making a play for futile chaos here, winding everyone up once again. This time instead of disguising himself as a snake (the always ultra-conservative possession flick has its roots in a wilful misreading of Genesis), he’s somehow behind the supernatural presence of the teen next door (ISABELLE!), a girl who has mysteriously died but during her brief lifespan used to be one of those Satanists they have these days. And thus, Isabelle proceeds to haunt the couple and it is spooky. Btw, Isabelle’s ghostly state is a would-be spoiler, being as it is a third act reveal prior to which we are supposed to believe in her corporeality. However, unless a small child or the mentally incapacitated are watching, the audience would have clued into her being a ghost from her first doomy apparition, seeing as Isabelle is the sort of movie where we seemingly know more about what is going on than the filmmakers do.

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Actually, that’s not entirely true. There’s the matter of the baby, which you would expect to be a primal feature of Isabelle’s would-be scare narrative. However, in an early moment of utter heartbreak which Isabelle has neither the nous, nor the earned right, to represent, Larissa miscarries close to her due date. Aside from the clumsy bad taste of this sequence, in narrative terms this is a self-defeating development: the worst thing that could have happened to Larissa has already occurred nine minutes into the plot. Sorry, but a spectral teen staring through the window is weak sauce after losing an actual baby. The point of this bit of the film is unclear (cheap exploitation of our worst actual fears?), and I wonder if in the original script the birth had actually happened, giving the film potential for some welcome baby-in-peril thrills and spills. Further hallmarks of potential narrative improvisation include a priest (who Matt approaches with the bombshell "I think my wife is possessed" in a bathetic moment where I would have laughed if the film hadn’t wound me up so much) who suddenly disappears, and whose role in the plot is replaced halfway by some sort of new-age guru (this did actually make me laugh. A bit).

isabelle review
Maybe there is sarcastic fun to have with the inept Isabelle. There is a jaw-dropping scene of accidental spectral noncery (when the ghost of the teen next door - young enough to have not yet grown out of her emo phase - appropriates the body of Larissa), after all, and a few of the scares do hit home. However, any fun is tempered by Isabelle's unpleasant credos. The film that it aspires to (and which it can only gaze up at in envious wonder), is the wonderful Stir of Echoes. But unlike that blue-collar masterpiece, which sympathised with the lot of lower-class girls in urban America, Isabelle presents the mental religiosity of Isabelle’s crank mother, which leads to her killing her daughter, as morally imperative! Never mind helping the poor kid, or anything like that. You know, like what the whole point of Christianity is supposed to be. The actual state on it! This is the sort of film where the Lord’s Prayer is intoned without irony, glibly assuming that the audience are on board with its Manichean mumbo-jumbo. Another creepy-for-all-the-wrong-reasons entry into the piss poor modern canon of religious propaganda masquerading as horror, and which most church goers will be just as offended by as the rest of us.

Isabelle is on VOD September 30th.


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