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Isabelle

Director: Robert Heydon

Writer: Donald Martin

Starring: Adam Brody, Amanda Crew, Zoe Belkin


A young couple's dream of starting a family shatters as they descend into the depths of paranoia and must struggle to survive an evil presence that wants nothing more than their very own lives.


Initial Reaction


K.  Larissa (Amanda Crew) and Matt (Adam Brody) are a young married couple expecting their first child.  Their lives seem to be going great until they move into a new house next door to Ann Pelway (Sheila McCarthy) and her handicapped daughter Isabelle (Zoe Belkin).  Soon after Larissa has a miscarriage and their son is stillborn.  Then Larissa notices Isabelle creepily watching her from an upstairs window, day after day.  Larissa attempts suicide and this begs the question of whether her visions of Isabelle are real or imagined.


I won’t give anything else away, not that there are any surprises in store but you get the gist of it.  The story recycles a lot of horror movie cliches (possession, exorcism, mystic healing, ghosts, etc), but doesn’t really do anything new with them.  In comparison to some of the awful dreck we’ve been watching, this is head and shoulders above them, but that’s not saying much.


Brody, Crew, McCarthy and Belkin all turn in admirable performances, they just aren’t given a whole lot to work with.  There’s not a lot of subtext or nuance to their roles.  It’s technically polished and looks very slick for a low budget.  Unfortunately, the story wanes pretty early on and then you’re just stuck watching things unfold on screen that aren’t terribly compelling or original.


C. What does a movie do when it’s about an evil spirit tormenting someone? The same thing found in every other movie of that nature.

That isn’t meant to say Isabelle is horrible. It’s technically sound, has a few creepy moments, an interesting enough premise and solid acting from Adam Brody and Zoe Belkin. But it falls into a category of movies that are “there,” something that will sadly be forgotten in the sea of content just like it. A movie that tries so hard to check all boxes for (what I assume is) marketability inevitably will end up becoming generic. You will find yourself a couple steps ahead of the movie that should either be trimmed by 5 minutes or lengthened by 20 minutes to appropriately handle the subject matter it presents.


Apart from the cliche issues that arise, the major problem with Isabelle comes from the emotional weight required for this premise. It intends to deal with the trauma of losing your baby in childbirth, especially having a stillbirth which would be a whole other level of devastating. However, we’re left with a grieving mother that is portrayed as crazy over dealing with her loss. Brody’s character asks a priest about his wife potentially being possessed within what seems like a week or two (if that) after their traumatic event. Then a little bit after that he’s discussing the possibility of him and his wife divorcing. These are things that could happen if we were provided more instances and a longer duration to really show how bad it’s become. This version has you wondering what kind of person he is for handling his baby’s death so well.


I will admit that I’m not the biggest fan of these vengeful spirit/possession movies as of late since they have been following the same paint-by-numbers framework that is being criticized here. That doesn’t stop me from wanting to be proven wrong though. In the end, even after two viewings (as I do to get a proper assessment) I couldn’t tell you one memorable scene/line of dialogue or any reason why I was compelled to continue watching besides the requirement of writing this review.


J. The film reminded me of Insidious for a while but nowhere near as good.  I won’t bother pointing out the similarities but suffice it to say, that after Larissa miscarries and returns home after a stint in the hospital, the titular Isabelle just won’t leave her the fuck alone.  This plays out as a kind of is-Larissa-crazy or is-she-really-experiencing-this-shit scenario.  Thing is, we know damn well that it’s real because Isabelle’s mother bails and she doesn’t do this for no reason.  Anyhow, we know immediately that whatever Isabelle is up to, it isn’t good.  This point is hammered home by the always creepy expression on her face as she watches Larissa from an upstairs window in the neighboring house like some Peeping Tom spectre.  Oh, and the CGI red eyes.  Dead fucking giveaway that Isabelle is nothing like Casper.  So as Larissa is continuously “haunted” I kept asking myself, why doesn’t she go over to the house and do something about it?  Well, because then the movie would end sooner so she doesn’t do that but instead falls further and further into a spiral of appeared lunacy.  There’s some creepy moments with the actress who plays Isabelle and she does look creepy as all hell but the look is a little too much like Sadako from Ringu.  Like way too much.  I had to ask myself if they were “paying homage” or if they really weren’t aware of how similar the costume design is.  The film does what it can as a no budget haunted house flick and it succeeds to a certain degree.  Where it doesn’t succeed is the end because apparently, Larissa and her husband Matt are stuck in some kind of time loop which literally comes the fuck outta nowhere.  I could be wrong in making that assumption but that’s what I took away from it.  Basically, it doesn’t make a damn bit of sense kinda like how Larissa doesn’t go to the house and throw down with that malevolent bitch Isabelle. 


Response


C. I have to second what Josh was saying about Larissa. I think the issue with the movie comes from the fact that the protagonist (Larissa) just gets haunted and goes crazy but she really doesn’t attempt to change her circumstance, other than yelling at Isabelle’s mother once. I think the movie would have added more tension if she did try to break into the house or do… something.  Hell, there could’ve been a scene where she broke in and I don’t remember at all. Or… if you’re going to put all the action on the husband at the end, then it should’ve been made from his perspective of seeing his wife being haunted and trying to “save” her.


Mainly my stance hasn’t changed a whole lot. It’s a movie that’s just “there,” neither good nor bad. It’s a dry piece of toast in a time when you need flavor, something memorable to standout in the oversaturated market.


J. So the heart and desire seems to be there but the end product… not so much.  If you’re a connoisseur of the haunted house subgenre you may get a little bit more to chew on but then again maybe not.  Especially if, like me, it made you remember things like Insidious also exist.  The runtime is brisk at 81 minutes, which is a goddamn blessing.  I will say that the completely out-of-left-field ending has stuck with me but I’m not sure if it's for a good reason.  It’s memorable I suppose but there’s lots of memorable things you’d rather forget too. 


K. I have nothing to add.  It exists.  If you don’t see it, you’re better off, life’s too short.


Bloodhound’s average score: 2 1/2 out of 5