Isolation posterGiven it’s slightly unpromising premise – killer mutant cows, anyone? – Billy O’Brien’s 2005 film Isolation is actually a surprisingly effective little production. Ireland seems to have been experiencing something of a mini-boom in horror films over the past few years, with other examples including Boy Eats Girl (great title!), Dead Meat and Shrooms, and this is probably the best of the bunch so far.

Dan (John Lynch), a down on his luck farmer, agrees to take part in an experimental project as a way of raising a little extra cash. Supervised by a local vet, Orla (Essie Davis) and scientist John (Marcel Lures), his cattle are fed a new type of growth hormone, intended to shorten the amount of time from birth until adulthood. Sure enough, one of his cows is soon pregnant, and gives birth to a calf which, rather disconcertingly, seems to have teeth. Both Dan and Orla are rather unnerved by this, kill it an conduct an autopsy: the calf, incredible, was pregnant with a number of mutant foetuses, one of which is able to crawl off and hide before they can destroy it. Before long, it’s starting to grow, and it seems to have a taste for human flesh. To make matters even worse, anyone who’s bitten by it seems to become infected by a virulent disease…

Where Isolation really scores points isn’t so much in its monster-movie shenanigans – which are decently enough done – but in the general mood and atmosphere it manages to generate, especially in the first half hour, before the real horror begins. Dan’s farm is a run down establishment, it seems to be permanently raining, and it’s all filmed in a suitably glum and dour fashion. The tension is allowed to build slowly, as we’re given indications that something’s not quite right (Orla is nipped while carrying out a vaginal inspection of the calf, the birth seems unnaturally difficult), and it all makes for an effective depiction of rural decay (it reminded me a lot of Blinded). And, as influenced as it is by Alien and The Thing, this takes its cues as much from the recent issues to have afflicted the farming industry (mad cow disease, foot and mouth, genetic modification).

Things are helped considerably by the fact that the script actually takes the time to develop some decent characters and the makers have taken the trouble of hiring some good performers. John Lynch has been around for donkey’s years (he starred in Hardware way back in 1990), and brings his usual intensity to the role; Essie Davis gets killed off pretty quickly, but is good while she’s there; Marcel Lures is a hugely repected Romanian actor; and Sean Harris (from Outlaw) and Ruth Negga do a decent job as a pair of travellers who get mixed up with it all. They certainly make for a more involving assortment than the usual idiotic youngsters who populate these things.

Director Billy O’Brien won a lot of plaudits for his animated short, The Tale of the Rat That Wrote back in 1999, and this makes for a pretty impressive debut feature; it will be interesting to see what he comes up with next. The cinematography of Robbie Ryan is also worth noting (Ryan went on to shoot Red Road). The icky effects – which are wisely underused – are done by the hugely expreienced Bob Keen.

There’s a nice interview with O’Brien and Lynch on the Film Ireland site

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *