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‘Isaac’ review: Tariq Sayed [FrightFest 2023]

If you caught and enjoyed Greg Wallace’s recent Channel Four ‘documentary’ Greg Wallace: The British Miracle Meat, then FrightFest’s First Blood entry, Isaac, might just be for you. Written and directed by Tariq Sayed, Isaac is a cautionary science-fiction tale that once more warns of mankind’s gung-ho attitude to advancement without properly assessing the potential negatives. 

Isaac stars Johnny Vivash as Nick Reeves. The audience are introduced to Nick at two different points in his life. The first is in his present, the year 2037, the second ten years earlier, 2027. Here he and his wife Sarah (Kathryn Louise) sit around the kitchen table in their rural farmhouse with Doctor Abner (Catriona MacColl). The topic of their conversation is a new trial that Doctor Abner’s company, Geo Group, is running. This experiment will see scientists ‘grow them a child’. The idea is extremely alluring to Nick, the couple having previously lost a daughter due to a genetic condition passed on himself. This new method  means that any bad genealogy can be bypassed. The catch though is that Geo Group will own the child until it comes of age, and they can recall it whenever they choose. The couple sign up, but all is not well…

In his present, Nick lives alone with son Isaac, Sarah having moved out some time before. This version of Nick is clearly struggling to cope and it is fast revealed that something is not right with Isaac. The young boy lives barricaded in his bedroom, Nick’s only interaction with him being to drop off his meals. Knowing that Geo Group would ‘recall’ his son if they hear about his odd and aggressive behaviour, Nick is desperately trying to keep him safe. With a check-in with Doctor Abner looming, Nick reaches out to his former family physician, Doctor Guria (Bosco Hogan), for help. His words bring to light a devastating prognosis; what is Nick to do now?

Isaac is a thought-provoking science-fiction story. What makes it so compelling is that there is an uncomfortable feeling that the technology featured is likely where our own society is headed. In the elapsed time between Nick agreeing to being a participant, Geo Group have become a global food company. Their line of products feature a range of lab-made animal meat. Grown from the cells of real animals, the artificial meat source is advertised as being more ethical and environmentally conscious. The parallels with this company and the one featured in the Channel Four doc are uncanny, and it proves that there is something strange hanging in the air. With our own troubling future potentially on the horizon, Isaac becomes a haunting forewarning, giving the audience plenty of food for thought. 

As Isaac is kept confined to his room, the bulk of the film rests with Johnny Vivash and his performance. The actor perfectly captures the fears and anguish that go with being a parent. Even when your child is turning into a literal monster, that parental bond blinds you, and Nick’s dedication to his son is to be applauded. Vivash communicates Nick’s guilt about the death of his daughter and how that informs his reaction to Isaac perfectly. His portrayal of a parent battling the concept of polluting their offspring with ‘faulty DNA’ is heartbreaking and feels entirely genuine. 

That Isaac is being told through Nick rather than Sarah is a thrilling change-up. The horror genre is riddled with stories of mother’s going to extreme lengths to protect their children, but has few examples of men doing the same. Sayed demonstrates that the paternal bond can be as strong as the maternal one. It is a welcome progression not only for fathers, but also for women, proving that they can be more than just mothers. The primary female character in Isaac is Doctor Abner; the overinvested scientist is typically male. Sayed gender flips this role and creates a more exciting narrative prospect. 

That in the foreseeable future people could be living out similar scenarios to those portrayed in Isaac, is chilling. The real-world possibilities ensure Isaac stands out from the crowded FrightFest roster. Science-fiction always works best when based in fact, and Isaac is an exemplary example. The addition of the paternal plight further enriches Sayed’s debut and positions him as a director to keep track of. 


Kat Hughes



A chillingly realistic slice of science-fiction that is equal parts parental guilt and disturbing innovation.


Isaac was reviewed at Pigeon Shrine FrightFest 2023. 

Kat Hughes is a UK born film critic and interviewer who has a passion for horror films. An editor for THN, Kat is also a Rotten Tomatoes Approved Critic. She has bylines with Ghouls Magazine, Arrow Video, Film Stories, Certified Forgotten and FILMHOUNDS and has had essays published in home entertainment releases by Vinegar Syndrome and Second Sight. When not writing about horror, Kat hosts micro podcast Movies with Mummy along with her five-year-old daughter.


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