by Jason Coffman
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Like many film fans, I believe the best way to approach a film is to know as little about it as possible going in before first watching it. The ideal situation— to know absolutely nothing about a film before seeing it— is all but impossible. But sometimes even knowing the most general details about a movie can spoil some of the experience. Take Isolation, for example: chances are good that you already know it’s a film that fits into the horror genre. Knowing that, you automatically start to watch the film and read it in a specific way. And for genre-savvy viewers, Isolation may prove to be a frustrating experience.
There is a brief scene of interaction between Amy (Eva Amurri) and her father Lawrence (Gregg Henry) in which he attempts to console her about something that has happened to make her upset. The film then cuts abruptly to Amy in a bed in a large hospital room, with radio snippets suggesting that an outbreak of a highly contagious virus may be why she is in an isolation unit. After some foggy time floating in and out of consciousness, Amy wakes and meets intern Jake (Joshua Close), and shortly afterward meets her doctor, Dr. Sloan (David Harbour). Details about why Amy is in the hospital are scarce, at least partially because Amy is so agitated that she can’t let Dr. Sloan finish a sentence, but the gist is that she collapsed and was brought in to the hospital, where she has been resting for days.
The film cuts between scenes of Amy in the hospital and brief scenes of Dr. Sloan and Jacob as they monitor her through cameras mounted in the hospital room and interacting with each other discussing her case. The audience learns early on that Amy is a resident, working towards becoming a doctor, and as she becomes increasingly restless and Dr. Sloan says and does some things that make her suspicious, the uncertainty of Amy’s situation becomes more ominous. Given the little information she has, and the odd behavior of Dr. Sloan and Jacob, Amy begins to wonder if she is being treated for a mysterious sudden illness or is being held in the hospital for a more sinister purpose.
Now, the main problem with Isolation is the fact that you know going into it that it is a horror movie, so chances are you will be watching with a careful eye. For its first hour, Isolation does a good job of diverting attention away from its central question, and the scenes that could tip the film’s hand wisely play things close to the vest. However, once the third act begins, things turn disappointingly predictable. All this work is for naught, though, if you have somehow managed to see the film’s trailer before watching the movie— the trailer literally spoils every conceivable thing that could be spoiled in the course of the film’s storyline.
The trailer issue aside, Isolation is often effective, playing on the universal fear of extended hospitalization and of getting an unexplained and unknown illness. Eva Amurri delivers a strong performance in the lead as Amy, and David Harbour is very good as Dr. Sloan, hitting just the right tone of concern tempered with a brusque manner. The trouble with Isolation is not its cast, or production values, or even necessarily the structure and writing— although Amy conveniently avoids doing at least one very obvious thing that would put to bed her uncertainty about her situation until the film is nearly over. Mostly, Isolation is undone by the expectations viewers will bring to the film with the knowledge of its genre. As it is, Isolation is a neat little thriller, but a few different choices to confound expectations could have made it something much more.
Entertainment One released Isolation on DVD on 4 October 2011.
Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He writes reviews for Film Monthly and “The Crown International Files” for Criticplanet.org as well as contributing to Fine Print Magazine (www.fineprintmag.net).
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