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ISABELLE ***

Directed by Rob Heydon. Starring Adam Brody, Amanda Crew, Zoë Belkin.

Horror, USA, 80 mins.

Released on demand from 30th September.

 

It’s not easy to pin Rob Heydon’s creepy horror film ISABELLE into any distinct sub-genre. It takes its first key plot point as a genuine domestic trauma which creates a pathway into a narrative that fuses both a possession motif with a haunted suburban thriller. Yet the tone manages to remain consistent throughout the refreshingly slender running time.

 

A smart opening credit sequence is inflected with dark shadows and a good score and sound design before we’re introduced to married couple Matthew (Adam Brody) and Larissa (Amanda Crew). They are expecting a baby imminently but after moving in to their new home, Larissa becomes concerned about the neighbours in the guise of strange mother (Sheila McCarthy) and daughter (Zoë Belkin), whose voyeuristic obsession would leave anyone on edge. A traumatic event which brings with it great tragedy and sees Larissa clinically die for a minute and creates great psychological angst but other-worldly forces could well be in play. Is Larissa psychotic or genuinely in danger?

 

The script’s domestic elements create an excellent through-line and an unsettling atmosphere which mixes dreams with genuine trauma and neighbourhood mysteries, ratcheting up the tension to almost unbearable levels. The lack of jump scares means the uncomfortable atmosphere is a constant, offering little rest bite.

 

Certain plot devices do feel slightly obvious, especially after a somewhat predictable reveal leads us into the second half where the jolts become more frequent and set-pieces, sometimes accompanied by cartoonish red-eyes, are repeated while the script searches for an ending. That the said the ending is always open and maintains the audience’s engagement as a new age spiritualist (Clifford Kane) provides the exposition and potential key to a resolution that we may have expected from the priest (Dayo Ade).

 

Quite what you make of the chosen ending may well be crucial to the overall feeling towards the entire proceedings but for the most part the journey is a disturbing and effective one. And you’ll be seeing Zoe Belkin’s stare in your mind’s eye for days.

 

Phil Slatter.

 

ISABELLE will be available on iTunes. https://apple.co/2mmcy9S

plus Sky Store, Xbox, Sony PS, Google Play, Amazon, Sky Store, Virgin Movies from 30th September.

 

 

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