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Friday, July 29, 2022

Irish Horror ‘Isolation’ Terrifies ‘Til the Cows Come Home [Horrors Elsewhere]

Cows are considered to be the perfect livestock. Not only do they provide food like milk and beef, their byproducts yield everyday goods, including leather, ointments, soap, and toilet paper. Yet as much as cows do for humans, there is always someone who thinks they can do more. Synthetic hormones and gene-editing are common practices when trying to improve cattle, but the kind of biological tampering seen in the 2005 movie Isolation is utterly twisted. These scientists believed they could make a better cow; one that would greatly benefit mankind.

Needless to say, they were wrong.

This atmospheric rural horror, shot outside of Dublin, is based on the director and writer’s rustic upbringing. Billy O’Brien grew up on a farm, but until he moved away to the city, he never realized how unique his childhood experience was. Seeing how his city friends reacted to a story about “calving” ultimately inspired O’Brien’s first movie. Of course he needed something more to go on other than just life on a farm. Which is where the monster cow comes in.

While Ireland is certainly smaller than the U.S. of A, the Emerald Isle has no shortage of cows. There is also so much competition, which is why farms like the one in O’Brien’s debut are struggling to survive. John Lynch’s character in Isolation is in over his head trying to save his late father’s ol’ dairy farm. The milk is not quite dried up, but no one is coming to collect it. Hence Dan allowing his Bessies and Buttercups to become guinea pigs in a mysterious experiment. The desperate farmer takes what is essentially blood money as his cattle are turned into incubators for evil.


Dan has allowed his farmyard to become the testing ground for a bio-genetics firm. And as of late, his only human contact has been with the firm’s emissary, a scientist named John (Marcel Iureș, The Cave), and a local veterinarian and friend named Orla (Essie Davis, The Babadook). A test subject goes into labor late at night, but something is off about this birth. So, Dan seeks help from the young couple crashing on his land, a pair of star-crossed lovers played by Sean Harris (Creep) and Ruth Negga (World War Z). This stressful scene employs the very same calving jack used by O’Brien’s father. The medieval-looking device cranks up the tension as it slowly wrenches the calf from its mother.

Isolation goes straight from gestating horror to birthing it. Orla eventually shows up to check on the calf, but after the baby takes a chunk out of Dan’s finger, it’s clear something must be done. Orla and Dan’s struggle to “humanely” put the newborn down, using a cattle gun, is without question unsettling to watch. The mother cow literally climbing the walls to protect her young adds to the chaos of the sad scene.

If the last two set pieces have somehow failed to jangle the nerves, the calf’s autopsy is sure to make the skin crawl. Despite her proximity to bad science, Orla only knows so much about the firm’s absolute endgame. What she finds inside the calf is where Isolation earns its reputation as “The Thing set on a farm.” This calf was already pregnant with multiple fetuses. Six of them, to be exact. And each one has its skeleton on the outside. This horrifying discovery reveals John and his team wanted to “create more fertile calves.” They succeeded, but not quite as they had originally envisioned.

One of the six malformed fetuses has survived the odds and is now looking for a way off this farm. The carnivorous cow spawn in question, which resembles a skeletal larva, is well on its way to becoming the apex predator in a place with no competition to begin with. And the only resolution is to contain the threat by any means possible. O’Brien’s affection for John Carpenter’s ‘82 cult classic is apparent in the second and third acts, but the imitation is well done, not to mention a smidge more plausible despite the absurdity involved.


Isolation stokes natural fears of invasion and disease. The rapidly growing creature’s infectious bite only raises the stakes further and conveys the story’s sense of urgency. Apart from the hospital scene at the end, everything occurs on Dan’s farm. So the sensation of never being able to escape, regardless of the open air and vehicles readily available, is unmistakable. The audience grows increasingly claustrophobic as the script pulls the surviving characters into the pit of hell that is the monster’s makeshift lair. Adrian Johnston’s first horror score heightens these choice moments with dramatic strings and modified farm sounds.

Isolation’s dreary setting matches its cast. The characters are not so much unlikable as they are wretched. Harris and Negga’s characters, Jamie and Mary, are on the run from their quarreling families, so their despondency stems from an unspoken culture clash. Meanwhile, Dan is partly to blame for the festering dilemma on his hands, but Lynch does a fantastic job of manifesting his character’s self-loathing and humanizing his mistake. Davis, whose hands-on approach to her role included sticking her whole arm inside a cow’s rear-end, is regretfully on screen for a short amount of time. However, it’s clear she shows great remorse for sleeping with the enemy. And while Iureș ticks off the “mad scientist” box of this genre outing, his John character makes the effort to right his wrongs, no matter how radical his methods are.

Lovers of accidental monsters, science gone awry, and suffocating environments are urged to watch this hidden gem. The 2000s was a busy time for British and Irish horror, which explains why O’Brien’s movie got lost in the crowd. Its obscurity is more disappointing than surprising, but there was no shortage of acclaim back then. Beautifully shot, grotesque and thoroughly disturbing, Isolation is aching to be rediscovered.

Horrors Elsewhere is a recurring column that spotlights a variety of movies from all around the globe, particularly those not from the United States. Fears may not be universal, but one thing is for sure — a scream is understood, always and everywhere.


The post Irish Horror ‘Isolation’ Terrifies ‘Til the Cows Come Home [Horrors Elsewhere] appeared first on Bloody Disgusting!.


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