Isolated

Film review by Thomas M. Sipos

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Isolated (2020, director: Tyler Lee Allen; script: Michael Ferree; cast: KateLynn E. Newberry, David Solomon, Lanny Joon)

 

 

 

 

Nell (KateLynn E. Newberry) awakes to find herself alone in a strange room. It looks like a prison cell of some sort. But as she will discover, there are no doors, only a skylight.

Where is she? How did she get here? Why is she here?

Isolated is one of those horror films with a tiny cast that is set entirely (or mostly) in a single room. Of its 99 minutes, the first 80 occur solely in Nell's cell. All that time we see only Nell, apart from a few glimpses of the man (David Solomon) who brought her here, and an offscreen voice (Lanny Joon) from a neighboring cell.

Cube is the best, and the most original, of "people trapped in a strange room" films. Saw is the most famous. Human Zoo one of the worst. Each brings its variations to the subgenre. The idiots in Human Zoo volunteered to become trapped in their rooms.

The victims in Cube and Saw discovered they had tasks to perform for some unknown person. So what is Nell's task? At first I expected torture porn, but thankfully, Isolated is not Saw. Halfway through the film I thought Nell might be dead and in Hell. I detected hints in that direction. Flashbacks to bloody hands. (Did Nell slit her wrists?) Hellish red light from an apparently supernatural grate. (Hey, there was an air duct there just a moment ago.) Cryptic remarks from the neighboring prisoner.

In the end, the explanation wasn't entirely original, but it was surprising. Nell isn't in Hell, but neither is her situation typical. And there were hints along the way.

Isolated is Newberry's film to carry and she does so superbly. She effectively conveys a range of shifting emotions -- fear, anguish, trauma, anger, grit, courage, compassion -- that make Nell into a compelling protagonist. The end credits list five actors, but two of them aren't actually in the film; they only appear in prop photos (one of them is cinematographer Greg Kraus's daughter.) This is really a three-actor film, and of the three, it's mostly Newberry.

 

 

Isolated never felt boring or claustrophobic, despite its story being limited mostly to one room. Credit scripter Michael Ferree for giving Nell enough busywork and discoveries in her cell to maintain our interest. Providing Nell with the foil of a mysterious voice in the neighboring cell (friend or foe?) was also a good choice.

Limiting locations and cast is a common way to keep production costs low. The challenge is to provide a compelling story with characters who engage our interest. Ferree's script and Newberry's performance succeed on that score. The production design (Tyler Lee Allen, who also directed) and cinematography are also good.

Isolated is not especially unique or memorable, but it's competently made and entertaining.


  

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