Dan (John Lynch, The Secret of Roan Inish) is a struggling Irish farmer, who makes a deal with John (Marcel Iures, Interview with a Vampire), a genetics researcher, to experiment on his cows. It first appears that something is going wrong with the cows when something bites Dan’s vet, Orla (Essie Davis, The Matrix Reloaded), who connected Dan with John, as she is examining a pregnant cow. Later, when there is trouble with birthing the calf, Dan asks the young Traveller couple that has parked their RV just outside of his property for help. Jamie (Sean Harris) helps Dan, but the calf bites Dan in the process. When Orla arrives, she knows something has gone wrong, and she puts the calf down-but an autopsy discovers that the calf itself is pregnant with what can be described as crustaceans. One of the things stirs and, although she kills the rest, it escapes. Soon more of Dan’s cows are infected by whatever it is, Orla goes missing, and John arrives to attempt to figure out what is happening. Dan, John, and eventually Jamie and Mary (Ruth Negga) rush against time to find the escaped hybrids and destroy them before they infect the outside world.
Director Billy O’Brien’s first (and thus far only) feature, Isolation is a low-budget “homage” to films like Alien and The Thing, both of which feature disgusting creatures on the loose facing off (and infecting one by one) a small cast in an isolated location. Unfortunately the farm doesn’t feel terribly isolated, and the monster chosen for the film is overly ambitious for the film’s limited budget. Indeed, for much of the third act the film switches into slasher territory with one of the characters attacking and killing the others. While a certain amount of stupidity is needed for many horror films to work, Isolation carries this a bit too far, with characters doing things like randomly driving tractors into five foot deep puddles of mud and waste to “drive the creatures out”. There are hints of characters relationships and motivations that remain only hints, which is frustrating as the film could use a bit more characterization. The basic idea might work with a better script, as Billy delivers a film of great verisimilitude before the monsters get crawling, giving the film an almost documentary feel of a real, working farm, farmer and vet. The cast is decent, especially Davis and Lynch, and it is a shame they did not get to do more with their characters. The effects are so-so, but there are many uncomfortable scenes involving people being bitten by the disgusting looking creatures and with intense veterinary scenes with the calf birthing early on. One wonders what O’Brien might have done with a better script, as these scenes and the opening third promise a very different, very real seeming independent horror film, but the film ultimately delivers a pastiche that answers the unasked question “What if Alien/The Thing happened on a not terribly isolated, sparsely populated Irish farm instead of in space?”