Anthology films and Arrow Video FrightFest go hand-in-hand. Each year there’s always a few that make the line-up, and this year is no exception. In fact two of them – Bad Candy and Isolation – have been pitted against each other in the time slots, causing chaos for fans of the sub-genre and also creating a bit of rivalry between the two projects. If there were to be a battle between the two, Isolation would come out as victor. The film was conceived by producer Nathan Crooker and sees a variety of genre filmmakers craft their own lockdown-made shorts that tie into the theme of the title.
Anthology films usually have a connecting or wraparound story that links each section together. In Isolation, the common theme is that they all take place during a global pandemic. Rather than devise another way to connect the stories, the team just worked with the real-world weirdness as the film opens with a little context to the tales that are to come. The virus mentioned in the opening text never assertively identifies itself as Covid-19, but the similarities are evident, although the version in the film is the absolute worst case scenario for how our own pandemic could have gone. It’s a clever way to work the different creator’s content together, and although each story exists in its own bubble, they do gradually become more and more related. Sometimes it’s just a simple image of a character from an earlier chapter appearing on a wall, or a headline within a news segment, and occasionally it’s a more solid union.
We transition from one film to the other via a sequence of graphics that depict black veinlike lines spreading across the world map, a visual interpretation of the virus taking over the world. Before each new story begins, the black stuff comes to a stop, at which point we are told the location for the take to follow. A rarity for an anthology film, which usually always has one or two weaker segments, Isolation manages to keep all of its nine pieces strong. There are some that stand out as being more striking than the others, but everyone really has brought their A-game. We begin in New York for Larry Fessenden’s Fever, a mixture of spoken word narrative and disturbing images that sets the mood for what is to follow. There’s some great sound design in Dennie Gordon’s Los Angeles-set The Dread, some terrifying imagery in Alexandra Neary’s Miami based Homebodies, and some queasy make-up effects for London story, It’s Inside, from Alix Austin and Keir Siewert. The jewel in the shiny crown though is the Seattle-set Pacific Northwest from Bobby Roe. Roe places his own children into the film, making them the stars and tells a devastating tale of abandonment, innocence, and survival. This is easily the most heartbreaking, unsettling, and stressful story amongst the lot.
Anthologies are usually hard to connect to, with the stories being so short that it is often hard to sync with the characters quickly. Our global pandemic backdrop bridges that gap, uniting viewer and character in a way that hasn’t been possible before. The real world parallels scream from each story, from 5G and It’s Inside, which take aim at conspiracy theories, to the aching sense of loneliness that seeps out of both Gust and Meat Hands. These films all offer experiences and circumstances that many of us can relate to on some level, and despite its obviously fictitious form, Isolation makes a compelling watch that really strikes a chord.
An anthology movie like no other, Isolation presents a melancholic and occasionally horrific genre interpretation of the last eighteen months (and more) of our lives projected onto screen.
Isolation was reviewed at Arrow Video FrightFest 2021.