Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bonus Killer Mutant Mammal Movie: Isolation (2005)

As I mentioned yesterday, there is no rule that your Killer Mutant Mammal has to be ferocious in its non-mutated state. In the vaguely titled Irish horror film, Isolation, a shockingly massive amount of terror is wrung from the premise that a mad-ish scientist, attempting to engineer cows that can mature to steak-dinner readiness extra fast, unleashes the horror of spiky, highly infectious, killer mutant cow embryos.

(Hmm, according to Dead Rising, that scenario should have resulted in zombies controlled by killer bees... somehow.)

Isolation hits all the standard KMMM beats: genetic engineering creates an implausible threat, the story takes a while to get going, characters make face-palmingly stupid decisions, and the ending is left wide open for a sequel.

Despite all this, the movie is frankly.... good. The scientist mostly keeps mum about his atrocities, rather than spewing forth with unceasing bad science and poorly reasoned explanations. The acting, pacing, and production values are all miles beyond what "killer mutant cow embryos" would require. Even the stupid decisions seem to come from genuine motivations, rather than because the filmmakers needed a kill or a scare at a particular moment.

Plus, its most brutal scene comes not from a monster attack, but the difficult birth of a calf. I don't know how realistic it is, but I know how expensive cattle are, which adds a layer of desperation to the poor farmer's plight. Unlike the characters in The Rats, who live quite comfortably in between eradicating mutant rat colonies, the hero of Isolation gets to see his meager livelihood dismantled even before his life is threatened.

Sadly, this is one film that will likely never get the recognition it deserves. The poor-to-nonexistent marketing provided by Lion's Gate hasn't helped, either. Just check out this misleadingly action-packed trailer:

The movie's greatest strengths aren't in any of these trailer bullet points, but in the film's low boil tension and creepy backdrop. I often like to ponder what Tarkovsky would have produced if someone talked him into doing a horror film, and except for the works of Kiyoshi Kurosawa (and, to a lesser extent, Kubrick) this is about as close as I've yet to see. (Though I doubt Tarkovsky would approve of all the shaky-cam.) Tense, somnolent, gritty, and relatively intelligent, this film deserves better than to be dropped into the bargain bin and yawned at by the "watch anything" horror junkies. Perhaps a rerelease with a new title and cover artwork would help; I've seen three different poster/covers for the flick, and none of them have thrilled me.

Do yourself a favor, go pick up a copy, watch it, and cook yourself a nice juicy steak right afterwards.


  1. Isolation is a great little gem of a horror flick. I watched it about a year or so ago and loved the hell out of it, and I'm with you on the birthing scene. It is actually realistic, but still perverted as hell.

  2. Yeah, something about wooden pulleys and thick, coarse rope clashes immensely with the thought of childbirth. (Even in animals.)

    Of course, perverting the act of reproduction seems to be one of the film's primary themes.