“Isolation” – (2005, UK/Ireland, 95 minutes – NR)
Irish farmer Dan Reilly (John Lynch) has fallen on hard times and agreed to let an obscure biotech concern conduct fertility experiments on his cows.
The idea is to speed up the maturation process while simultaneously increasing the animals’ fertility. The research is conducted by a non-too-friendly scientist named John (Marcel Iures), assisted by local vet Orla (Essie Davis).
Dan, the farmer, doesn’t quite understand the science behind the program and probably wouldn’t care if he actually saw the money he was promised. But both he and the vet, Orla, have yet to see some dough.
Complicating matters is a Romeo and Juliet story unfolding in a trailer parked at the edge of John’s property, with Jamie (Sean Harris) and Mary (Ruth Negga), hiding from Mary’s brothers who’d kill Jamie faster than a field mouse can fart.
Everybody from scientist John to the local Garda cop (Stanley Townsend) tells Dan to get rid of the couple, and he tries half-heartedly. However, since one of his cows is birthing a calf with life-threatening complications, Dan has no recourse but to ask Jamie to help him with the delivery.
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Only a few hours earlier, when Orla was examining the cow, she felt the calf snap at her hand, drawing blood. Very weird… Jamie helps Dan winch the calf out of the cow’s uterus, and a quick look at it tells Dan something is definitely weird, as in fangs in the calf’s mouth which it uses on Dan’s hand. Since he hasn’t yet seen a penny, Dan’s phone was disconnected and he must wait for Orla to return the next day.
When she has a look at the toothy calf, she and Dan find the animal unresponsive, barely alive. Between its condition and its Colgate smile, she decides to put it down, using a captive bolt pistol, like Javier Bardem in “no country for old men”.
Except she botches it and takes off part of the calf’s head instead, as the mother cow hoofs it over the pen’s gate, almost landing on Dan and Orla. Once the calf is dead, Orla performs the autopsy and finds six rather strange fetuses inside: lobstery-looking thingies with exoskeletons and fangs. It is unfortunate that Orla seems better at starting things than following through, because:
A – She did botch up the calf’s euthanasia
B – She didn’t clean up and bag the fetuses she found inside, at Dan’s great dismay.
Result: one of the lobster-fetuses revives and escapes the makeshift lab to walk the Earth and make more of its sexy self.
Had Dan been in possession of his senses, he would have owned at least one cat on the farm and lobsterthing would have been dealt with extreme prejudice within five minutes. But then, there would be no story. And “isolation” is quite an effective creature-feature effort, even if its pace has turned off some viewers.
I found that it very nicely echoed some of Cronenberg’s early films, as well as Carpenter’s “the thing” and even “Alien“. Billy O’Brien, who wrote and directed “isolation”, takes his time establishing his characters and their respective circumstances, and his camera at times stays on its subject(s) a tick too long.
What “isolation” does is establish a sense of doom and apprehension, helped in great part by Adrian Johnston’s score which is unobtrusive but suggests very unpleasant things to come. The cast is small but made of talented, established actors: John Lynch (“Hardware”, “black death”, “the secret of Roan Inish”), Essie Davis (graduated from Australia’s NIDA, the dramatic institute which also produced Mel Gibson, Cate Blanchett, Judy Davis, Geoffrey Rush and director Greg McLean of “Wolf Creek” and “Rogue” fame), Davis acted in “the girl with the pearl earring”, “the Matrix: revolutions”, “the Matrix: reloaded”, Sean Harris acted in “Harry Brown”, “24 hr party people”, “Creep”, Romanian actor Marcel Iures was seen in “the peacemaker”, “mission impossible”, “Pirates of the Carribean: at world’s end”.
Ruth Negga has done mostly stage and TV but shows a lot of promise.
With a premise involving mutating livestock on a rampage, “isolation” could very easily have become Mystery Science Theatre fodder, but despite a couple potholes in the narrative and other forgivable lapses in character logic, it’s a solid and effective film if you enjoy moody horror films with good characters and gory effects. It makes you feel the cold, the dampness and bleakness of the farm. Drowning in a pool of cow manure’s gotta be a nasty way to go, but perhaps a merciful one if a lobster’s going to lay eggs inside you.
Dan-Dan the farmer man should have gotten a cat.
“Isolation” gets four jellybeans…