Isolation (2021)

Isolation has its world première at FrightFest 2021

Conceived by Nathan Crooker, Isolation is a nine-part anthology film whose episodes were made in different parts of the world – mostly in or around American cities, but also taking excursions further (e.g. London in Alix Austin and Keir Stewart’s It’s Inside) – during a global pandemic not unlike Coronavirus, but faster to mutate and more deadly. These episodes were also made in isolation, under the confining conditions of Covid-19, so while we may catch views of an empty (or even burning) city in Larry Fessenden‘s melancholic New York opener Fever, Dennie Gordon’s LA-set The Dread or Zack Passero’s Gust in El Paso, for the most part these short narrative snatches are restricted to the enclosed spaces of houses or apartments, and might have been set anywhere. Indeed Christian Pasquariello’s closer Comfort Zone, though nominally taking place in Berlin, unfolds entirely within the windowless interior of a shipping container, and proves by its end the slipperiness of location. 

Like Dmitriy Tomashpolski’s Space (Prostir, 2021), this anthology provides a cross-sectional snapshot of plague and its ramifying effects on our domestic and societal order, taking not just the temperature of geopolitical shifts and breakdowns in power structures, but also examining the fracturing psyches of individuals around the world. The common element to all these stories is the bunkered mindset of lockdown, and the associated paranoia, delusion and despair. Several capture characters in mental collapse, whether it is Fessenden’s patriarch succumbing to the delirium of disease in Fever, or the woman (Dennie Gordon) whose nightmares prove barely worse than her waking reality in The Dread, or the online influencers (Graham Denman and Alix Austin, respectively) falling prey to the viral conspiracy theories that they also help spread in It’s Inside and Andrew Kasch’s 5G, or the mother (Hannah Passero) whose loss and loneliness lead her to surrender to the prevailing winds in the achingly understated Gust, or the sad, isolated man (Adam Brown) whose profound longing for human contact ends in one final, doomed embrace in Adam Brown & Kyle I. Kelly’s quietly affecting Meat Hands.

Alix Austin as Paige in It’s Inside

Alexandra Neary’s Homebodies combines intradiegetic shakicam and zombie(-ish) tropes as part of its nerve-shredding reportage on the disease’s latest variant, while Comfort Zone shows one possible global solution (and the last hopes of humanity) from a desperately blinkered point of view. Most harrowing is Bobby Roe’s Pacific Northwest, which focuses on the weight of the future being carried by a pair of alarmingly young children who must cope with immense, incomprehensible loss while calling on their wits to escape a pair of masked adult marauders. In this bleak collection, those two children become symbols of resourcefulness, resilience and survival, and the poignancy of their orphaned status is only increased by the knowledge that they are played by the director’s own children, Sunny and Bodhi Roe, in what must have been a dfficult shoot for all involved.

Inevitably all these shorts, with their different provenances and styles, form disparate fragments of an epidemic apocalypse, but they are unified both by their thematic coherence, and by some narrative threads that have been woven across the mosaic of the movie. What happens in one episode is heard on a news report in another, there are invisible connections between online conspiracy theorists across the world, and an international rescue vessel passes from rumour to reality. Most of all though, these tales of disease, detention and death amplify anxieties and experiences that have become familiar to everyone across the globe over the last year and a half, ensuring, ironically, that the ultimate, cathartic message of Isolation is that none of us, in our locked-down life under Covid, has really been alone. 

strap: Coordinated & curated by Nathan Crooker, Isolation is a nine-part, multi-director, transnational anthology of global epidemic apocalypse

© Anton Bitel