Isabelle: Cliché-Strewn Horror a Lesson in How Not to Make a Genre Film

By Liam Lacey

Rating: D

Horror movies aren’t supposed to be tasteful or even necessarily original though we each draw our own lines on what goes too far. Personally, I’m agnostic on pulsing red eyes or stern older women with grey buns, or rambling houses with floral wallpaper. I don’t necessarily mind the floating bridal dresses or lank-haired adolescent girls crawling across the floor. I admit I’m little tired of Catholic priests fighting demons or foreigners with pagan knowledge of evil ways.


What I don’t like is using people in wheelchairs or survivors of childhood abuse as sources of evil. Also, mothers grieving over stillborn children is not merely an excuse for a lot of trippy hallucination scenes.

All these horror tropes, and I mean all of them, appear in the movie Isabelle which, if it were any more generic, would come wrapped in a yellow package with black printing saying: “Horror Movie Concentrate: 80-some minutes. Includes: pregnancy, middle-class marriage breakdown, demonic possession, child abuse. May be manufactured in a facility that contains nuts.”

Isabelle goes something like this: Larissa (Amanda Crew, Silicon Valley) is the eight months–pregnant wife of Matt (Adam Brody). They take up residence in an old house on a leafy New England town, played by Hamilton, Ontario. Larissa plans to give piano lessons while Matt practices law. For some reason, she keeps asking him if he still really wants the baby and he says, yeah, of course.

After moving into the new digs, Larissa meets her unfriendly neighbour Ann (Sheila McCarthy in grey-bun mode), sees the woman’s pale, spooky daughter Isabelle (Zoë Belkin) staring down from an upstairs window and promptly has a hemorrhage.

At the hospital, Larissa is “clinically dead” for a minute, which makes her somehow especially tuned into the spirit world. Soon, Larissa apparently goes psychotic in the usual discount Roman Polanski style. She dreams of her dead baby, waking and crying for her. Next, she starts receiving visitations from the out-of-her-wheelchair mobile Isabelle — in the mirror, in the bed, in a gown, on the floor.

Husband Matt — the busy professional ready to get on with his career — just wants Larissa just to keep popping the anti-depressants the hospital shrink has prescribed. Matt seeks help first from the hospital chaplain (Dayo Ade), then his sister-in-law (Krista Bridges) and a Hispanic guy (Michael Miranda) who all jump on the demonic possession theory because… maybe they’ve seen this movie a few times before as well.

Editing, music et al are professional if uninspired; the dialogue frequently rings flat and acting ranges from committed (Crew) to vaguely distracted (Brody).

Apart from the generic disability and pregnancy horror tropes previously mentioned, none of this matters or is intended to, though it’s still a disappointment when a movie aspires to explore evil and settles for plain bad.

Isabelle. Directed by Rob Heydon. Written by Donald Martin. Starring Amanda Crew, Adam Brody, Sheila McCarthy Zoe Belkin, Booth Savage and Kirsta Bridges. Opens June 28 at Toronto’s Carlton Cinema.