Directed by Alix Austin, Adam R. Brown, Larry Fessenden, Dennie Gordon, Andrew Kasch, Kyle I. Kelley, Alexandra Neary, Christian Pasquariello, Zach Passero, Bobby Roe, and Keir Siewert.
Starring Larry Fessenden, Marieh Delfino, Dennie Gordon, Damien Gerard, and Sunny Roe.
An anthology of nine horror shorts filmed under the social distancing and self-isolation requirements of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Who among horror fans doesn’t love a short film anthology? While the format is certainly widespread in the genre – allowing below-the-radar filmmakers a chance to showcase their chops – this nine-film compendium is set apart by its of-the-moment specificity.
All of the shorts featured herein were shot entirely in lockdown across the United States and Europe, the cast and crew forced to adhere to local regulations in order to execute their visions. It’s all a bit Dogme 95 for the pandemic era, and though audiences couldn’t be blamed for craving escapism far away from 18 months of COVID-adjacent movies, Isolation’s canny decision to frame itself as a decidedly bleaker scenario might allow it a life beyond those confines.
First up, “Fever” (directed by and starring Larry Fessenden) follows a man driven to incredibly disturbing acts by the virus. Fassenden nimbly captures the everyday anxieties of pandemic OCD, alongside creative use of a stop motion-esque technique to depict his protagonist’s loosening grip on reality.
Next, “5G” (directed by Andrew Kasch) depicts a virus conspiracy crackpot (Graham Denman) living under house arrest whose electronic ankle tag begins talking to him. It’s a cute idea that leads to quite the hilarious payoff.
“The Dread” (directed by veteran TV and film director Dennie Gordon) is perhaps the most disappointing of the lot; a mildly moody, largely wordless home invasion short that doesn’t muster much energy nor pay off with particular interest.
This is followed by the most conceptually interesting of the nine films, the Seattle-set “Pacific Northwest” (directed by Bobby Roe), where two young children attempt to survive at home alone as a pair of masked assailants invade their homestead. This is a great example of a smart filmmaker cannily exploiting the resources available to them; some gorgeous natural locations, and his own children who give impressively convincing performances as the embattled siblings. It’s the most poignant short by far and earns its more expansive 15-minute length.
“Meat Hands” (directed by Kyle I. Kelley and Adam R. Brown) bottles the crushing loneliness of pandemic life in a disarmingly strange way, focused on a man (Brown) who fills plastic gloves with warmed mince such is his desperation to feel the touch of another human being. It’s a clever, quietly devastating concept, albeit one too slight to really justify the short’s overdone runtime.
We then shift to London for “It’s Inside” (directed by Alix Austin and Keir Siewert), revolving around a conspiracy theorist (Austin) who believes a surveillance device has been placed inside her body by the government. Easily the bloodiest of the nine shorts, Austin and Siewert impressively execute some genuinely gnarly gore on an apparent nothing-budget, which combined with Austin’s go-for-broke performance and some appealingly grungy visuals make this a real treat.
In El Paso, we have “Gust” (directed by Zach Passero), which conveys a woman’s (Hannah Passero) brutalising despondency in an empty house. Short, wordless, and to the point, it benefits from its neat location work, a silent-yet-compelling central performance from Passero, and a musical score that feels vaguely reminiscent of early George A. Romero movies.
“Homebodies” (directed by Alexandra Neary) offers up the anthology’s single found-footage entry, as a news reporter (Marieh Delfino) orders her cameraman (Alex Weed) to venture out into the night to score some salacious footage. If sure to draw comparisons to Nightcrawler, things eventually take a turn for the supernatural in this brief sprint of a short, which despite taking a while to build a head of tension delivers a satisfyingly creepy time – including one genuinely jolting jump scare.
And finally, we end up in Berlin for “Comfort Zone” (directed by Christian Pasquariello), set entirely within a shipping container after a woman (Fine Belger) wakes up there and tries to figure out a means of escape. Despite an amusing final reveal, the grisly ending feels a bit rushed, as can often be an issue with short films trying to reach a palpable climax in such a brief amount of time.
It’s fair to say that few of the films here would qualify as great on their own, though there’s certainly nothing to label as bad either, and the occasional connective thread tying several of them together is a neat flourish.
But the key here is brevity; with an average length of around 10 minutes none of the shorts get the opportunity to grossly outstay their welcome, even if a little more thematic diversity among them wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Still, as a testament to what can be achieved on minimal resources – neither the lighting nor the sound recording have that professional sheen in most of the shorts – it is an impressive, laudable collection.
It’s inconsistent as most anthologies tend to be, but Isolation’s creative batch of low-fi shorts nevertheless aptly capture the horror of the last 18 months – with a heightened genre twist.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Shaun Munro – Follow me on Twitter for more film rambling.